Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bill on judicial accountability approved

Bill on judicial accountability approved

P.SUNDERARAJAN and J.VENKATESAN

NEW DELHI, October 5, 2010

Public can lodge complaints against judges with a national oversight committee

The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved a bill providing for a mechanism to deal with complaints against judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court.

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill sets judicial standards and makes judges accountable for their lapses. It will also mandate the judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court to declare their assets and liabilities, including those of their spouses and dependents.

The bill to replace the Judges Inquiry Act retains its basic features, contemplates setting up of a national oversight committee with which the public can lodge complaints against erring judges, including the Chief Justice of India and the Chief Justices of the High Courts.

At present, there is no legal mechanism for dealing with complaints against judges, who are governed by 'Restatement of Values of Judicial Life,' adopted by the judiciary as a code of conduct without any statutory sanction.

The five-member committee will be headed by a retired Chief Justice of India, appointed by the President, and have a serving Judge of the Supreme Court and a serving High Court Judge, both nominated by the Chief Justice of India; the Attorney-General; and an eminent person nominated by the President. This marks a change from the earlier proposal, in which the committee was to be headed by the Vice-President and to have the Chief Justice of India, a High Court judge and two distinguished jurists not involved in regular practice of law.

On receiving a complaint, the committee will forward it to a system of scrutiny panels. In the case of a complaint against a Supreme Court Judge, the scrutiny panel will consist of a former Chief Justice of India and two sitting Supreme Court judges, and in the case of a complaint against a High Court judge, the panel will have a former Chief Justice of the High Court and two of its sitting judges. The members of the Supreme Court panel will be nominated by the Chief Justice of India, and that of the High Court panels by the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned.

The scrutiny panels will have the powers of a civil court. For instance, they can call for witnesses and evidences. They will be required to give their report within three months to the oversight committee. In the case of a complaint against a Chief Justice, the oversight committee itself will conduct the scrutiny.

On receiving the report from the scrutiny panels, the oversight committee will set up a committee to further investigate the case. Like the scrutiny panels, the investigation committee will have the powers of a civil court; it will have the power to frame definite charges.

If the charges are not proved, the investigation committee can dismiss the case. Otherwise, it will give a report to the oversight committee, which can issue an advisory or warning if the charges are not too serious. If the charges are serious, the committee can request the judge concerned to resign. If the judge does not do so, the oversight committee will forward the case to the President with an advisory for his removal.

In such an event, copies of all relevant documents will be laid in Parliament and an impeachment motion moved. In the Lok Sabha, not less than 100 members will be required to move the motion, and in the Rajya Sabha not less than 50 members will be needed.

Official sources said that besides declaring their assets, judges would be required to file an annual return of assets and liabilities. All the details would be put up on the websites of the Supreme Court and the High Courts.

The bill will also require the judges not to have close association with any member of the Bar, especially those who practise in the same court.

Courtesy_

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