Govt for re-look at law to prevent judges from quitting during impeachment

The government favoured a re-look at the law to prevent a judge from resigning till any impeachment motion process is completed.

New Delhi: The government on Friday favoured a re-look at the law to prevent a judge from resigning till any impeachment motion process is completed as it said the Judicial Accountability Bill was being fine-tuned to address lacunae in the legal system.

"There is a need to have a re-look into it...These issues cannot be buried under carpet," Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said in Rajya Sabha.

He was replying to a debate on a private member`s bill, moved by veteran journalist and nominated member HK Dua, that sought constitutional amendment to prevent a judge from resigning till any impeachment motion process is completed, as happened in the case of Soumitra Sen, Calcutta High Court Judge about a year back.

Earlier, members cutting across party lines including Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley, senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani and Abhishek Manu Singhvi pushed for amendments to the Constitution in this regard.

The Bill was withdrawn after the Law Minister said the constitutional amendment was not required but assured members that all possible measures would be initiated to bring in reforms in the judicial system to correct aberrations.

"There is need for reforms ... This government is totally committed to ensuring that aberrations in delivery of justice will be corrected," Kumar said.

Referring to the issue raised in the bill, Kumar said, "The issue is relevant whether an errant judge facing an inquiry on grounds of misconduct can be allowed to escape acts of commission and omission by resigning."

He said, "Lacunae and gaps in the law need to be filled through other methods like possibility of a legislative enactment and amendments in existing laws like Judicial Accountability Bill, presently being formulated. We are fine-tuning it." Kumar said as far as issues concerning transparency in judicial system are concerned, they have created misgiving in public mind which needs to be corrected.

Advocating the need for such reforms, he said at the same time that "we have not to resort to extremism" as "we have a strange situation" where this House has only said that sanctity and integrity of judiciary should not be brought under question.

Assuring the House that the government was serious on the front and will take all possible measures to introduce reforms, he urged the member to withdraw the Bill.

Earlier, initiating the debate, Dua said, "By resigning, Soumitra Sen avoided the stigma of being impeached. ...My amendments provide to fill this lacuna in the Constitution. The lacunae was one judge resigns, it is taken as accepted and President has not role."

The proposed amendments to Articles 124 and 217 seeks to make it mandatory to take approval of President on resignation of a judge who is facing any proceedings or removal.

Under the current rule, if a judge submits his or her resignation to the President even while facing impeachment, the resignation will automatically come into effect and the impeachment proceedings will abruptly come to an end. Even if one of the Houses passes a resolution for the judge`s removal, the other House will not take it up for discussion.

Supporting the amendment, D Bandopadhyay (Trinamool) said a judge who has committed offence has no right to escape impeachment by resigning.

KP Ramalingam (DMK) said judges have to be role models for others and there should be no disparity in their cases and they should not be allowed to escape law.

DP Tripathi (NCP) favouring the amendment said it is high time that government must wake up to the call.

Bharatkumar Raut (SS) said judges are supposed to be custodians of law and if found guilty of violating law, should be treated like common men.

Nominated member Ashok S Ganguly said absolute impeccable nature of judiciary needs to be restored as during the past 15-20 years its credibility has started eroding.

Shantaram Naik (Cong) expressed hope that the government would initiate proper steps to ensure that judiciary should not escape from the back door.

Stressing the need to check judicial activism, he said a trend has started recently where they have started criticising even Prime Minister, MPs and Ministers while passing judgements.

The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that they have started asking "government to enact the legislation and show them the draft of the bill”.

Bhalchandra Mungekar (Cong) said extensive amendment was needed as there had been instances that judges have gone on record saying 50 percent of judges of a particular High Court were corrupt.

EM Sudarshan Natchiapan (Cong) said members hoped that the Law Minister will make some historical changes for judicial reforms.