Bill on accountability of judges introduced in LS

Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts would be subject to scrutiny of a high-level committee, according to a new bill that was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

Last Updated: Dec 01, 2010, 19:46 PM IST

New Delhi: Judges of the Supreme Court and
High Courts would be subject to scrutiny of a high-level
committee and those facing serious charges of misconduct may
be asked to step down, according to a new bill that was
introduced in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

The much-delayed Judicial Standards and Accountability
Bill, 2010 proposes to make provisions for declaration of
assets and liabilities by judges within 30 days of assuming
office and also lays down certain guidelines for them.
The measure assume significance in the wake of recent
cases involving allegations of misconduct against the
judiciary prompting even the Supreme Court to comment on the
`uncle judge` syndrome in the Allahabad High Court.

The bill, tabled by Law Minister M Veerappa Moily amid
din created by the Opposition demanding a JPC probe into 2G
spectrum allocation, provides for setting up a five-member
National Judicial Oversight Committee to be headed by a former
Chief Justice of India.

Other members of the apex committee would be a Supreme
Court judge, a Chief Justice of a High Court, an eminent
person nominated by the President and the Attorney General of
India, who would be the ex-officio member.

The bill seeks to replace the Judges (Inquiry)
Act, 1968 while retaining its basic features. Under the new
measure, a judge not facing serious charges may be let off
after a warning or issuance of advisory. However, if any judge
faces serious charges, that would require further probe, that
particular judge may be asked to step down.

"And if he (the judge in question) fails to do so,
then (the Oversight Committee can) advise the President to
proceed for the removal of the judge and the President shall
refer the matter to Parliament."
According to the guidelines or code of conduct, the
judges should not have close association with individual
members of the bar and not allow any member of their immediate
family to appear before them in courts.

The proposed law expects judges not to contest
election to any office of club, society or other association,
except those associated with the law or any court.

According to its `Judicial Standards`, the members of
the higher judiciary should have no bias in judicial work or
judgements on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place
of birth.

The assets and liabilities of the judges of the
Supreme Court, including that of the Chief Justice of India,
will be displayed on the website of the apex court. A similar
exercise will be undertaken by the High Courts.

As of now, there is no law that requires the judges of
the Supreme Court and the High Courts to declare their assets
and liabilities. There is also no statutory sanction for
judicial standards.

The bill has provision for setting up of Scrutiny
Committees to which cases will be referred by the Oversight
Committee.

The Screening Committee will be in place for Supreme
Court and in each of the 21 High Courts.

The Committees would investigate the charges and
submit reports within three months to the Oversight Committee.

A former Chief Justice of India and two judges of the
apex court will be members of the Screening Committee for the
Supreme Court. Similarly, a former Chief Justice of High Court
and two judges of High Court would be members of the Screening
Committees to be constituted for the High Courts.

If there is a complaint of misconduct against the
Chief Justice of India, it will not be referred to the
Scrutiny Committee but will be scrutinised by the Oversight
Committee.
At present there is no legal provision for dealing
with complaints filed by the public against judges of the
Supreme Court and the High Courts, the bill said.

The bill also has provision for allowing the common
man to complain about the alleged misconduct of a judge. But
if the complaint is found to be "frivolous or vexatious", the
complainant can be punished with rigorous imprisonment of upto
five years and a fine which may extend to Rs five lakh.

The bill was earlier introduced in Parliament and
referred to a standing committee. With the expiry of the last
Lok Sabha, the bill had to be reintroduced.

The bill was brought before the Cabinet in March this
year but was referred to a Group of Ministers after sharp
differences over the provision of "minor reprimand" for
members of the higher judiciary arose during the meeting.

The GoM, headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar,
cleared the bill in May and it got a fresh Cabinet nod in
October.

PTI