Judicial Accountability means judging the Judges. The repercussions faced by the Judges on account of having taken a decision which does not agree with the generally recognized standards of law.
This article speaks about the problems which are affecting the Judicial system in India and makes certain recommendations which can be followed to establish better judicial accountability. Accountability of public institutions, especially the Judiciary holds a lot of importance for the survival of democracy as unrestricted power to one of the main pillars of democracy without accountability, is dangerous to the society at large. The Judiciary must be accountable to the law with respect to its decisions and such decisions should be made in accordance with the law and should not be unjustifiable.
CORRUPTION: THE ROOT CAUSE
Indian polity is under extreme pressure. Common man has lost faith in the judicial system as a whole. The judiciary to them is their last resort of hope. However, off lately, people have lost their faith in the judiciary. There is a need for checks and balances to put an end to the misuse of power. Judges are expected to maintain the highest standards in their conduct; however, it is an undoubted fact that corruption has infected the Indian Judiciary too thereby reducing public confidence in courts, leading to unpredictability of judicial decisions and undermines the effectiveness of the institution. This in fact strengthens the importance of judicial accountability.
Impeachment or outright removal of a judge are the main measures of judicial accountability available in India today.
SOME CASES AGAINST JUDGES IN INDIA
A judgement was delivered against K. Veeraswami, former chief justice of the Madras High Court who in 1976 challenged a FIR filed under the Prevention of Corruption Act on the ground that the Act did not apply to judges. The Supreme Court held that: “Judges are under the law, not above it. Your public life, and even private life to the extent it influences your judicial role, should be accountable and transparent to the public”, thereby laying the groundwork for bringing judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court under the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The first judge to face the impeachment proceedings in independent India was Justice V. Ramaswami, then Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1991, who was found guilty by the Inquiry Committee on most charges, but the motion did not obtain the required votes in Parliament.
Likewise, charges were formed against Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran of Sikkim High Court in 2011, however he resigned before any action could be taken. In another case, Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court was found guilty of embezzlement of public funds by the Inquiry Committee in 2011 and the Rajya Sabha voted in support of the motion. However, even in this case the Judge put forth his resignation before the Lok Sabha could vote upon it. The impeachment motion against Chief Justice Dipak Mishra did not commence at all with the speaker discarding the motion out-and-out.
The recent case is of the allegations of sexual harassment made by a former female employee of the Supreme Court of India against former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and the strange occurrence of events thereafter. The issue still remains unsettled and the incidents that happened especially disclose the many flaws in the in-house mechanism that is set up for settlement of such affairs.
In response to the above allegation, there was an atypical hearing which happened on a Saturday without a petition being moved. The person who held the highest judicial office in the land sat as a judge in his own case. That hearing was attended by three judges, but the order that came out was unexpectedly signed only by two out of the three, the CJI refusing to vote.
The woman’s complaint was considered false after a public statement was issued by the Registrar-General of the Supreme Court. A similar statement was issued by the court employees’ association. This gave rise to rumours of conspiracy. As a result, a retired judge was called to look into the above allegations, but there is no update on the same. The Attorney-General had in the beginning recommended the CJI about having an external committee – a recommendation which was backed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, a sitting judge of the court. However, instead of following the above recommendation, a committee of judges was formed to examine the situation who were chosen by the CJI himself. The inquiry was also an irregular process as the complainant was not permitted to be represented by a lawyer; the in-house process was not communicated to the complainant even after she specifically requested for the same; also, she was not provided a copy of her own evidence. As a result of the above, the case had to be withdrawn. An order was passed in due course, but it was not handed to the complainant but only to the accused. The entire operation was enveloped in confidentiality under the pretext of guarding of judicial independence.
“If you lose faith in politicians, you can change them. If you lose faith in judges, you still have to live with them.”Nani A. Palkhivala
There is a need for an independent statutory and full-time body for performance audit and disciplinary control over judges. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill despite in need of some minor modifications, is clearly a step in the right direction and attempts to strike a rational balance between the needs of accountability and of judicial independence. It should be enacted into a law at the earliest. We need a strong mechanism for the same to make sure that such instances are dealt with differently and in an organized manner.
Click here to read our article on a Comparative Analysis of Judicial Accountability in India, U.S.A and U.K