Recently in news?
The reputation and credibility of Supreme Court and CJI was questioned in a medical college bribery case.
Sequence of Events:
Recently a writ petition was filed demanding that a SIT under a retired Chief Justice of India be set up in a case pertaining to instance of bribery for a favorable judicial order in a case of a debarred private medical college admissions. The petition implicated a judgment written by current CJI, even though he has not been named in the FIR.
After hearing the petition, a two-judge Bench headed by Justice Chelameswar referred the case to a five judge Constitution Bench.
In a separate move another five-judge Constitution Bench headed by CJI declared that the ‘Chief Justice is the master of the roster’, i.e. he has the sole prerogative of setting up benches.
This assertion of administrative power by CJI in the face of allegation of corruption resulted in a dent on Judiciary’s moral authority and also presented a case of conflict of interest wherein CJI became the judge in his own case.
CJI further asserted that an FIR against sitting judge is not the procedure and amounts to contempt of court thus raising the larger debate of judicial accountability and a dent on the moral authority of judiciary.
Issues pertaining to Judicial Accountability
Inadequacy in legislative mechanisms to tackle judicial corruption: There are legislative difficulties such as IPC section 77 and Judges( Protection) Act, 1985 in implicating and prosecuting judges.
Judicial accountability vs independence of judiciary: The demand of judges being investigate by CBI, CVC or other such bodies can be misused to seek recusals of judges and may undermine independence of judiciary.
Problems with the impeachment: It is a long-drawn-out and difficult process along with its political overtone.
Judges appointing Judges: The collegium system in India presents a unique system wherein the democratically elected executive and Parliament at large has no say in appointing judges.
Non declaration of assets of judges and judiciary being beyond the purview of RTI further needs a course correction.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010:
It aimed at replacing the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968.
It requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards and establishes processes for removal of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.
It establishes the National Judicial Oversight Committee, the Complaints Scrutiny Panel and an investigation committee.
Any person can make a complaint against a judge to the Oversight Committee on grounds of ‘misbehaviour’.
The bill lapsed after dissolution of 15th Lok Sabha in 2014
Suggestions and Reforms for effective Judicial Accountability
The cardinal principle that the CJI is the master of the roster must be re-examined as was done in U.K. Although it is a tenet of judicial discipline but it cannot be considered an absolute principle of justice delivery.
A two level judicial discipline model with first level as a disciplinary system that can admonish, fine or suspend judges for misdemeanors along with providing them some limited measures of immunity; and, second level as a system of removal of judges for serious misconduct, including corruption must be established.
It is also impertinent that the scope of judicial accountability must be widened from the issues relating to judicial ethics and judicial misconduct and bring in the issues of “efficiency and transparency” through the adoption of a new Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill.
It should also be brought under Right to Information Act. Transparency or openness is an accepted principle of democracy and good governance.