LAW RESOURCE INDIA

RS passes Sen impeachment motion and questions how judges appoint themselves

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INDIAN EXPRESS

The Rajya Sabha today passed by an overwhelming majority a motion to impeach Calcutta High Court judge Justice Soumitra Sen on charges of misappropriation of large sums of money and making false statements and misrepresenting facts of that misappropriation. And, in the process, the Elders used the opportunity to pose a question to the higher judiciary: how did somebody like Sen, whose conduct as a lawyer was highly questionable, become a judge in the first place?

That question wasn’t purely rhetorical — speaker after speaker during the four-hour debate got up to question the current collegium system of appointment. And many MPs, cutting across party lines, criticised what they called the growing tendency of the higher judiciary to step into the domain of the executive and the legislature.

While 189 members voted in favour of the motion to impeach the 53-year-old judge, 17 members, including 16 from the BSP, voted against it. The BSP was the only party that came out in support of the judge.

Contacted after the vote, Sen told The Indian Express: “I am extremely disappointed… There is no question of my resigning. I shall fight till the end and explore all legal remedies. I am honest on this issue and will continue to fight my case.”

Not many had bought this case. Continuing from where he left yesterday, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said that the time had come to revisit the procedure for appointment of judges, strongly favouring a National Judicial Commission (NJC) to replace the collegium system. “The system of judges alone appointing judges must now change. India needs a National Judicial Commission to appoint judges,” Jaitley said. He said the NJC should comprise representatives of the judiciary and executive, as well as prominent citizens.

“Both the pre-1993 and the post-1993 system had several handicaps. The best in this country are not willing to become judges. We have to seriously consider why… We should seriously consider a system which is being debated about setting up a National Judicial Commission… Public interest has to be protected in the matter of appointment of competent judges, in the matter of appointment of judges who are men of integrity, men of scholarship. Not only this, the criteria for appointment today does not exist. Is it today the discretion of the collegium? Collegium is also a system of sharing the spoils. When the High Courts recommend, members of the collegium share the spoils,” he said.

Talking about judicial over-reach, Jaitley said: “Separation of powers requires that every institution works in its own spheres. And if every institution works in its own spheres, it has to lay down the lakshman rekha of its own jurisdiction..And I must candidly confess that this attempt to encroach upon the lakshman rekha is neither coming from governments of the day in the Centre or the States nor is it coming from the Executive or the Legislature. Some serious sidestepping is coming from the judicial institution itself.”

He was also critical of the “increased trend” of the Executive giving jobs to judges after their retirement, saying, “There is a possibility of retirement-eve judgments getting influenced in search of post-retirement jobs…this is a serious threat to judicial independence.” Jaitley also reiterated that Sen had tried to mislead the House by presenting “serious falsehood” about the facts of his case in the House yesterday.

Taking a dig at the recent incidence of the apex court taking an ideological stand, Jaitley said, “Courts cannot say that this is neoliberalism which is creating problems. Courts cannot have an ideology. The only ideology that courts can have is commitment to the rule of law and what law is made by Parliament. Courts cannot tell this to the Government.”

Congress MP E M S Natchiappan said he “felt sorry” the way in which a serving judge had attacked the judiciary, especially a former CJI, in words that were never ever used in Parliament.

Springing a surprise, BSP MP Satish Chandra Mishra, who opposed the motion, said: “The findings have said there has only been diversion of funds and not misappropriation and secondly the finding of a single judge was dismissed by a division bench.” Therefore, he said, it could not be the ground for his removal.

In his address, noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani (BJP) launched a frontal attack on Sen, urging members not to be “misled” by his eloquence, which, he said, had nothing to do with morals. “This man did not deserve to be a judge. Not only should this judge go, other judges who do such things should not remain for even one more day…Let us set a good precedent today so that judges with similar bent of mind get a message that they cannot get away with such things.”

Jethmalani added that by paying the Rs 52 lakh, Justice Sen had bought for himself a reprieve from possible prosecution for criminal breach of trust that carries a prison term of 10 years to life.

CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, who moved the motions against Sen, also favoured setting up of a judicial commission.

D Raja (CPI) stressed the need for a judicial system based on probity and integrity. “A National Judicial Commission is required so that there could be accountability of judges,” he said, adding the nation is agitated over corruption in high places.

Tiruchi Siva (DMK) and Bharatkumar Raut (Shiv Sena) spoke on the need for judicial reforms and changes in the system to appoint judges.

Rajneeti Prasad (RJD) said the appointment system has to change and unless this happens, corruption in judiciary will remain, there will always be some appointments based on personal — rather than professional — considerations.

“When a peon is being appointed, he is interviewed. Set up a judicial commission…This way, good judges will be appointed. Otherwise, only children and kin of judges will become judges,” Prasad asserted.

Kumar Deepak Das (AGP) and H K Dua (Nom) also made similar demands. Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) said though the judiciary’s fight against corruption was welcome, the trend of judiciary “taking away power by appointing committees — MCD should work like this; this committee should work like this” was wrong. “May be, the authority is not functioning properly, but for that you are not the authority. Let the democratic process, the rule of the law and parliamentary accountability set right the course,” he said.

Immediately after the motion was passed, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who remained present in the House and voted, walked up to Yechury and Jaitley and congratulated them on the approval of the motion.

Now that the RS has passed the motion, the matter will go to the Lok Sabha, where, once again, Sen will get an opportunity to present his defence. However, the date when the Lok Sabha will debate the motion, will be decided early next week by the Business Advisory Committee.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/rs-passes-sen-impeachment-motion-and-questions-how-judges-appoint-themselves/834089/0

Judges must be beyond all suspicion

Posted in CONSTITUTION, CORRUPTION, COURTS, IMPEACHMENT, JUDICIAL REFORMS, JUDICIARY, JUSTICE by NNLRJ INDIA on August 19, 2011
Arun Jaitley

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While speaking on the motion for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen, a Judge of the Calcutta High Court, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, highlighted that those who occupy high offices must live through the scrutiny of highest standards of probity. Excerpts from his speech:

This is a sad but historic moment in the Indian democracy. We have assembled to decide the fate of a man who decided the fate of others. This political house is here to perform a judicial function. We have heard a detailed presentation in the defence of the Judge sought to be impeached.

The power of removal/impeachment of a Judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court is a power which is to be used in the rarest of the rare cases. We invoke this jurisdiction to remove a man and save the dignity of the office, which is paramount.

Judges no longer live in ivory towers. Today, they live in glasshouses where the bar, litigants, public and the media watch them from close proximity. But then we have all to exercise utmost restraint. Judges cannot defend themselves against unfounded allegations. They must neither be summarily tried nor be thrown to the wolves. A Judge, under inquiry, must be candid. He cannot plead only technical defences. He cannot be too clever by half. He cannot invoke a right to silence like an ordinary accused, and shy away from speaking the truth.

In this case, when the Judge under inquiry says that his offence must be proved ‘to the hilt’ or ‘proved beyond reasonable doubt’ , he relies on technicalities rather than substance. A Judge is like Caesar’s wife. He must be beyond suspicion. Those who occupy high offices must live through the scrutiny of highest standards of probity. A Judge must be unsuspectable.

Proven misconduct?

Justice Sen is guilty of a continued ‘proven misbehavior’ from his days as a lawyer when he was appointed as a Receiver; and this continued well in to his tenure as a Judge of the Calcutta High Court. He never rendered the accounts as directed by the courts both as a lawyer and as Judge. He created encumbrances, by withdrawing monies, which were in his custody as a Receiver of the court. He transferred these monies unauthorizedly to persons not authorized to receive them. He withdrew the monies himself. He transferred the money to another account, which he maintained as a special officer in Calcutta Fans case. Even after his elevation as Judge in 2003, he continued the misappropriation of monies. His case squarely falling under Section 403 of the IPC of temporary misappropriation of monies is a criminal offence. In any case, he continued to retain these monies till 2006. He only returned the monies under the coercive order of the court and not otherwise.

During his tenure as Judge, he put a false defence before the single Judge, the Division Bench, the in-house inquiry committee and the impeachment inquiry that he had invested these monies in a company which went into liquidation. The liquidated company had nothing to do with these monies. The Division Bench judgment is a judgment with consent of all parties. It does not lay down the law. It is a judgment in personam, which is binding only on the parties, and not a judgment in rem, which binds the rest of the world. It does not, in any way, restrain the jurisdiction of this House under Article 217 from examining a case of ‘proven misconduct’.

Justice Soumitra Sen’s conduct as a litigant was unfortunate. He led no evidence. He hardly cross-examined witnesses. He claimed the right of silence. He then misrepresented and put up a false defence. He has been held guilty, both by the in-house committee appointed by the Chief Justice of India, and also by the committee appointed by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha. He is conclusively guilty of an offence. A case of ‘proven misconduct’ is made out against him. A Judge has to lead by example. A Judge cannot rely on technicalities and try to escape the rigours of law. Litigants cannot be Judged by a Judge, who himself is stigmatized. The defence of Justice Sen has thus to be rejected.

Who must appoint the Judges?

The Constitution of India empowers the government, in consultation with the Chief Justice of India to appoint Judges. Since the government has the last word, the independence of judiciary was being seriously compromised. The theory of social philosophy of Judges was propounded in the early 1970s in order to provide for a ‘Committed Judiciary‘ in India. The failure of a section of the judiciary during the Emergency and thereafter compelled the revisiting of the debate as to who should have the last word in the appointment of the Judges. The Supreme Court in 1982, by a narrow majority of 4 against 3, maintained the status quo. This enabled further politicization in matters of judicial appointments. In 1993, the balance of power shifted. The advice of the Chief Justice of India became binding upon the government. In 1998, the authority of the Chief Justice of India was diluted to provide for a collegium to appoint Judges.

The quality of judicial appointments, the best available not willing to become Judges, has not improved. Both the earlier systems have not succeeded. Thus the system of Judges alone appointing Judges must now change. India needs a National Judicial Commission to appoint Judges. It must be a combination of members of the judiciary, the executive and citizens’ representatives in public interest who must collectively appoint Judges.

The more important question is what should be the criteria on which Judges should be appointed. Today, Judges perform the Executive function of appointment in an unguided manner. The discretion of the National Judicial Commission, if it is so appointed, or the collegium as at present must now be restricted and regulated by the provisions of the Article 14 of the Constitution of India. There must be objective criteria introduced with regard to the qualification of persons under consideration, their academic credentials, their experience at the bar, their quality of judgments if they belong to the judicial institutions, details of cases argued, details of judgments reported with regard to the cases the lawyer has argued, the number of juniors trained, academic papers authored, amount of income tax paid, and the reputation and integrity etc. Unless these objective criteria enable a candidate to cross the threshold, he cannot enter the zone of consideration.

At present we have an in-house mechanism, which judges the Judges. It is an extra constitutional mechanism which has not succeeded. The process of impeachment is a near impossibility. The National Judicial Commission thus, in matters of judicial discipline, should be the Judicial Lok Pal.

Threats to judicial independence

The appointment of political activists as Judges at times has compromised the judicial independence. The lack of integrity can be on account of several reasons, which influence the administration of justice. These include judgments delivered because of collateral reasons and prejudices on account of religion, caste or personal reasons.

There is an increased trend of the Executive distributing jobs to Judges post retirement. This has seriously compromised the independence of judiciary. In recent times , the cases of Judges delivering judgments in politically sensitive cases on the eve of retirement and getting jobs the very next day from the Government is on the rise. I believe that no Judge should be entitled to a job after retirement. If the age of retirement is sought to be increased in the case of High Courts, as per the existing Bill pending, the same must be accompanied by a constitutional amendment, which prohibits jobs after retirement. The Judge strength of High Courts can be increased and all judicial tribunals must be manned by serving Judges.

Separation of powers

The separation of powers is one the most valuable principles of the Indian democracy. Separation of powers is infringed upon when the Legislature or the Executive encroach upon the Judiciary’s space or Vice Versa. It is only judicial statesmanship which prevents a confrontation between the institutions. Of late, with the weakening of the political Executive and serious division in the polity, the tendency of the judicial institution to encroach upon the Legislative or Executive space has increased. It has been argued that if the Executive does not perform its job, the Judges have to step in. This is a dangerous argument. By the same logic, if the judiciary does not perform its job, can somebody else step in? The answer is NO in both the situations. Recent comments and pronouncements with regard to whether India should have liberalized economy or regulated economy do not fall within the judicial space. How terror is to be fought is in the Executive domain. What should be the land acquisition policy, is a concern which belongs to the Parliament and the Executive. Whether a Pakistani prisoner in India should be released or exchanged for Indian prisoners in Pakistan, is to be determined by the Government and not the Supreme Court. Whether FDI is needed in the economy or not is an area that belongs to be Executive or Parliament. Unfortunately, recent aberrations in the separation of powers, have all been on account of judicial activism. Activism and restraint are two sides of the same coin. Each institution must respect the Lakshman Rekha.

A breach of trust

Finally Sir, we have before us a case of ‘proven misbehaviour’ by Justice Soumitra Sen. It is not that his misbehaviour is restricted to his tenure as a lawyer. There is a thread of continuity in his ‘proven misbehaviour’. He became a Receiver of a court property. He opened a bank account in his own name. He was a Trustee of somebody else’s fund. He misappropriated the funds. He put them for an alternative use. This he did as a lawyer.

In 2003, when he became a Judge, he continued the misappropriation. He did not ask the court to discharge him. When the court issued him notice, he did not respond. When the court passed strong strictures against him, he under coercive direction of the court returned the money in 2006 along with interest. He mis-representated to the court that he had invested the money in a private company and that the money got lost when the company became insolvent. No part of this money was ever invested in a private company. When the Chief Justice of India called him for an explanation, he moved the Division Bench through his mother and got an order of the single Judge set aside on the basis of concessions made by the advocates. The order shows the members of the bar not in good light. Before the in-house committee, appointed by the CJI, he persisted with his false defence. The committee found him guilty. Before the Parliamentary Committee, he did not volunteer the entire evidence. He resorted to technicalities and silence. He resorted to false defence.

His acts, both as a lawyer and a Judge, had all the ingredients of culpability of breach of trust. He misappropriated the money and he put up a false defence. He was not truthful or candid. This is a case of ‘proven misbehaviour’.

I, therefore, support the address to be made to the President, that Justice Soumitra Sen be removed from office as a Judge of the Calcutta High Court. He is undeserving to occupy that office. We recommend the removal of an undeserving man to save the dignity of the office.

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110819/edit.htm#6

Judges under scanner

Posted in ACCESS TO JUSTICE, ACCOUNTABILITY, CONSTITUTION, IMPEACHMENT, JUDICIAL REFORMS, JUDICIARY, JUSTICE by NNLRJ INDIA on December 3, 2010
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

FROM THE TRIBUNE

1.   Justice Nirmal Yadav (Uttarakhand High Court): The CBI court in Chandigarh has adjourned the hearing to December 14 as Special Judge Darshan Singh is on leave. During the previous hearing of the Cash-at-judge’s door case, it was adjourned following the CBI’s submission that the prosecution sanction against Justice Yadav was awaited. The CBI had earlier sought permission from the Union Law Ministry and the President’s Secretariat for initiating prosecution against her.

2.   Justice Soumitra Sen (Kolkata High Court): He has been held guilty by the inquiry committee of “misconduct” tantamount to “misbehaviour” warranting his removal as a judge by impeachment. The Rajya Sabha Secretary-General has asked him to file a reply to the inquiry report by December 9.

3.   Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran (Sikkim High Court): The Rajya Sabha Chairman has reconstituted the three-member inquiry committee with Justice Aftab Alam of the Supreme Court as its head. He replaces Justice V.S. Sirpurkar who had recused himself from hearing the case against the backdrop of questions raised on his neutrality.

4.   Ghaziabad PF scam: As many as 26 judges are involved. Ashutosh Asthana, the key accused, died mysteriously in prison. The Supreme Court has refused to shift the case to Delhi.

5.   Former CJIs: After former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan alleged that eight of 16 former Chief Justices of India were corrupt, his advocate son, Prashant Bhushan, filed another affidavit in the Supreme Court listing alleged instances of corruption against six of them – Justice Ranganath Misra, Justice K.N. Singh, Justice A.M. Ahmadi, Justice M.M. Punchi, Justice A.S. Anand and Justice Y.K. Sabharwal. Mr Prashant Bhushan is now facing a contempt case in the apex court.

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20101203/edit.htm#6

Reform should begin with the profession of law

Posted in ACCOUNTABILITY, IMPEACHMENT, JUDICIAL REFORMS, JUDICIARY, JUSTICE, UNCATEGORIZED by NNLRJ INDIA on December 3, 2010
The supreme court of india. Taken about 170 m ...

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Jagdeep S. Chhokar  IN THE TRIBUNE CHANDIGARH

THE Supreme Court of India’s observation that “something is rotten” in the Allahabad High Court and Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia’s speech during a National Law Day function (both on November 26) that good judges can be appointed within the current system in the next two years when he is the CJI are laudable. A deeper analysis of the two statements can reveal significant pointers to the state of judiciary in India today.

Over the years, the Allahabad High Court has provided several judges of the Supreme Court, including Justice Markandey Katju who, along with Justice Gyan Sudha Misra, had criticised the state of affairs in the Allahabad High Court. One cannot but admire their concern. If “a lot of complaints are coming against certain Judges of the Allahabad High Court relating to their integrity”, is the integrity of these judges likely to improve if they are posted to another High Court?

Judicial technical legalities aside, to a layperson it is extremely unlikely. The results of such actions have been known in the past when there were protests from the Sikkim High Court and the Guwahati High Court when attempts were made to transfer judges with suspect integrity to these High Courts.“Transfer is no punishment” is an oft-used explanation in the civil services whenever someone protests against a transfer, and that should be the same in the judiciary. Similarly, transfer is no cure for a suspect integrity.

It is understandable that given the complexity of the impeachment process, the options for dealing with recalcitrant judges are limited and that is why transfer is suggested as one of the so-called solutions or “strong measures”, but it actually is begging the question.The quest for an answer takes us to the CJI’s statement about proving that good judges can be appointed “within the current system”. Several inferences can be made from the statement, though admittedly not possibly intended by Justice Kapadia.

The fact that the “current system”needs to be proven implies that there are concerns about it. That it will be proved that “good judges can be appointed” is an indirect acceptance that bad, or at least not good, judges have been appointed. The concerns are obviously proved by the Allahabad High Court Bench.

Secondly, Justice Kapadia has promised that good judges can be appointed within the current system “in the next two years” when (he is) the CJI. The first inference implies that the current system is person-dependant. The basic rationale for putting systems in place is to make them free of individual idiosyncrasies but it is also accepted that systems are as good as the people who use them. Granville Austin aptly said, “(C)onstitutions, however ‘living’, are inert. They do not work, they are worked.” But there is a difference, however subtle, between constitutions and institutional systems. The main expectation from the latter is that they will work independent of human follies and weaknesses. If the current appointment system for higher judiciary is susceptible to human frailties, then there is ample justification to try a new system.

This leaves one important issue of higher judicial appointments unattended and that is the source of these appointments. On November 26, the Bar Council of India had decided to postpone the proposed All India Bar Examination from December 5 to March 5, 2011. While this, by itself, may be a relatively innocuous action, it does point to the state of affairs of the profession of law which suffers from many infirmities starting with education for LL.B., registration of lawyers, and practices followed by lawyers in courts and outside. The actions of various regulatory authorities, the Bar Councils, and various Bar Associations are not always above board. And it may not be out of place to say that something is rotten with the country’s legal profession. Clearly, it is the Bar that is the major source of recruitment to the higher judiciary. Therefore, reforming the system of appointment to higher judiciary should begin with the reform of the profession of law.

The writer is a former Dean, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20101203/edit.htm#6

New law against ‘uncle judges’ coming soon

Posted in IMPEACHMENT, JUDICIAL REFORMS, JUDICIARY, JUSTICE by NNLRJ INDIA on November 28, 2010

NAGENDER SHARMA IN THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

With the Supreme Court coming down heavily on the Allahabad High Court, saying the kith and kin of some judges were practising as lawyers in the same court, the government proposes to check the widespread trend in the country by making a fresh law.The issue of ‘uncle judges’ was first raised by the Law Commission of India, which advises the law ministry on complex legal issues, in its report submitted to law minister M Veerappa Moily in August last year.

Based on the feedback provided by the commission, the law ministry is now ready with the judges standards and accountability bill to be introduced in the Parliament, which seeks to make it mandatory for judges to follow judicial standards.

Moily was cautious in his response to the unprecedented remarks by the country’s top court about the largest high court.

“It is a serious matter,” was all he was willing to say.

Ministry officials admitted the issue was not confined to the Allahabad High Court alone. “We have information about Himachal, Punjab & Haryana and Rajasthan high courts,” said an official.

“Often we hear complaints about uncle judges. As a matter of practice, a person who has worked as a district judge or has practiced as a lawyer in a high court for many years is appointed as a judge, he is bound to have colleagues and kith-kin there,” the law commission had stated.

“Even in government services, particularly, Class II and upwards, officers are not given postings in their home districts. In the same way, judges whose kith and kin are practicing in a high court should not be posted there. This will eliminate uncle judges,” the report stated.

Following the strong observations by the commission, the ministry, in its new bill, has made a specific reference to address the issue of ‘uncle judges’.

“No judge shall permit any member of his immediate family (including spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law or any other close relative) who is a member of the bar to appear before him or be associated in any manner with any case to be dealt by the judge,” states section 3 of the bill.

Further the definition of close relative includes brother or sister of the judge, brother or sister of the spouse of the judge and brother or sister of either of the parents of the judge, according to the proposed law.

It also debars any practicing lawyer who falls in the family and relative category of the judge to use his residence “for their professional work.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/New-law-against-uncle-judges-coming-soon/H1-Article1-631830.aspx

Bar chorus for court clean-up

Posted in ACCOUNTABILITY, IMPEACHMENT, JUDICIAL REFORMS, JUDICIARY, JUSTICE by NNLRJ INDIA on November 28, 2010

SATYA PRAKASH IN THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

A day after the Supreme Court slammed the Allahabad High Court for some of its “incorrigible” judges passing orders on “extraneous considerations”, bar leaders on Saturday said it was time to stem the rot. Former law minister Shanti Bhushan, who recently filed an affidavit in the apex court saying eight former chief justices of India were definitely corrupt, said, “I have been saying this for years. Now even the Supreme Court has said it.

“The real problem is that there are hardly any crusaders in the judiciary. Even honest judges try to defend the corrupt ones because they feel it’s one judicial family,” Bhushan said, hailing justice Markandey Katju as a crusader for having asked the Allahabad HC chief justice to clean his house by transferring the “incorrigible” judges.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said: “The SC’s comments point to a problem that exists in the judiciary. But Justice Katju can only protest…He has not provided any solution.”

Asked if transfer of “uncle judges” would solve the problem, former Delhi Bar Council chairman KC Miittal said,  “There has to be a comprehensive, transparent transfer policy. In any case it can only be a temporary solution.”

Dhavan, who represents Tehelka in a contempt case, wondered why the magazine and advocate Prashant Bhushan should be hauled up for contempt when the SC itself was making such comments.

Maintaining that poor bar leadership has compounded the problem, Miittal said the Bar Council of India should come out with stringent norms to check “uncle judges” syndrome.

Former BCI chairman VC Mishra said: “The evil pointed out by the SC is not limited to the Allahabad HC. It is there in all other HCs as well.”

He, however, said transferring a dishonest judge from one HC to another was not the real solution. “No judge should join a high court where he had been practising as a lawyer.”

Lucknow-based Oudh Bar Association president RS Pande said the real problem was the secret appointment process. “It should be made more transparent and… after thoroughly checking the background of the candidates,” Pande said.

BCI chairman Gopal Subramanium said: “We will certainly take it up in our next meeting.”

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Bar-chorus-for-court-clean-up/Article1-631800.aspx

Judicial corruption: Pulling punches

Posted in COURTS, IMPEACHMENT, JUDICIAL REFORMS, JUDICIARY, JUSTICE by NNLRJ INDIA on November 27, 2010

Jay Bhattacharjee / New Delhi November 28, 2010, 0:17 IST  IN THE BUSINESS STANDARD

The recent decision of the committee appointed by the Rajya Sabha Chairman has held that a judge of the Calcutta High Court, Soumitra Sen, was prima facie guilty of grave financial offences and must face impeachment proceedings in Parliament. This has been showcased as a much-needed curative to tackle corruption in the country’s higher judiciary (the High Courts and the Supreme Court).

Indeed, the stench of graft and malfeasance from India’s palaces of justice was becoming all-pervasive. Even judges were feeling the heat, although the reaction of most of them was the usual strategy adopted by people whose privilege and status are under scrutiny. Their castles were fortified and defensive salvos were fired. However, public indignation forced the legislature and the executive (the two other constitutional branches of the Republic) to introduce some measures for judicial accountability. A wishy-washy bill was passed by Parliament and may become law in the near future.

We need to examine the backdrop. Supreme Court and High Court judges are covered under the provisions of Article 124 (4) of the Constitution and cannot be removed from office except by an order of the President, passed after a judge has been impeached by Parliament. The rules of impeachment are like a hurdle race — the accused must be pronounced guilty of “misbehaviour or incapacity” by both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, and in each case, the verdict has to be supported by a majority of the total membership of each House and by a majority of “not less than two-thirds of the members of the House present and voting”. Article 124 (5) gives Parliament the power to frame laws that govern the entire impeachment mechanism. Pursuant to this Article, Parliament passed the Judges (Inquiry) Act in 1968.

These two Articles of the Republic’s Constitution make our senior judiciary one of the planet’s most protected species. The luminaries who framed the guiding document of the young nation with an ancient history of justice and jurisprudence would have been horrified if they had witnessed the judiciary’s peccadilloes, which we have been experiencing. And they would have been outraged that this group had extended its constitutional immunity by a self-serving pronouncement, 41 years after the Constitution came into effect. This is, of course, the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict in K Veeraswami vs Union of India and Others, {(1991) 3 SCC 655}, in which a majority of judges (4 to 1) decided on a vital issue that affects us all.

In a 100-page document, the bench ordained that any criminal case against a Supreme Court or High Court judge will be registered only after the President sanctions the prosecution, after consulting the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and in accordance with his advice. The stated rationale was that the judiciary needed to be protected against any interference by the executive. The bench went on to assert that “care should be taken that honest and fearless judges are not harassed” but are “protected”.

The operative part of the pronouncement reads as follows: “It is accordingly directed that no criminal case shall be registered under Section 154, CrPC against a Judge of the High Court, Chief Justice of High Court or Judge of the Supreme Court unless the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is consulted in the matter…If the CJI is of opinion (sic) that it is not a fit case for proceeding under the Act, the case shall not be registered…It is necessary that the CJI is not kept out of the picture of any (emphasis added) criminal case contemplated against a Judge”.

With these few lines, the Indian judiciary carried out a virtual coup against the Republic’s citizens. The ramifications are staggering; Section 154 of the CrPC deals with the dreaded First Information Report (FIR) that is every law-abiding citizen’s nightmare. This is the document that empowers any thanedar in the country to knock on your doors, even at night, and take you to a lock-up in the police station where the FIR was lodged, if the offence recorded in the FIR is non-bailable. In such an eventuality, we can forget the standard Hindi film dialogue where the victim bravely asks the police posse for the “arrest warrant”.

Thanks to the Veeraswami verdict, the Indian senior judiciary has arrogated to itself a blanket immunity that the Constitution’s framers never contemplated. An unvarnished reading of the judgment leads to the conclusion that a judge can commit any offence under the laws of the land, but his or her prosecution can only be initiated with the CJI’s permission. This is certainly the interpretation that is being currently followed by the country’s judicial and political establishments.

To make matters worse, as the Sen case demonstrates, the judiciary has extended the ratio of the Veeraswami decision to offences alleged to have been committed before a judge assumed office. Nowhere does the otherwise tainted judgment say this. Sen is charged with committing swindles when he was an ordinary mortal like the rest of us. It is absurd that the procedure prescribed under the 1968 Act, read with the relevant Articles of the Constitution, should be followed to remove him from office. This is clearly an extreme example of shadow-boxing by the nation’s elites. Citizens must ask whether this charade should continue. Why has he not been charged, so far, under the relevant sections of the IPC, as would have been done in the case of any other citizen?

If this is a portent of how future proceedings will be conducted in cases of wrongdoing — such as the Commonwealth Games or the 2G spectrum scandals — we should all be running scared.

The author is a senior corporate and business analyst in Delhi

http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/jay-bhattacharjee-judicial-corruption-pulling-punches/416332/

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