Polity and Governance

Judicial Accountability in India

Introduction
•Recently, an allegation of sexual harassment was made against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) by a former Supreme Court employee.
•CJI called for an ‘extraordinary’ court session, and said, 'this is the reward a Chief Justice of India gets after 20 years and a bank balance of Rs. 6.8 lakh'.
•The matter was investigated by the in-house panel of the Supreme Court.
•The in-house panel was headed by Justice S.A. Bobde. 
 
Latest development
•Complainant had walked out of the proceedings citing panel’s refusal to allow her a lawyer, treat her with sensitivity. 
•The in-house panel had submitted its report to the “next judge competent to receive the report”.
•A Supreme Court in-house panel, inquiring into alleged sexual harassment charges against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, in May 2019 said that there was “no substance” in her allegations. The committee report will, however, not be made public. 
 
Judicial Accountability
•India runs on the principle of ‘rule of law’, which implies that ‘no one is above the law’.
•Judiciary is the guardian and protector of law, which preserves and enforces the fundamental and legal rights of citizens.
•While other people, organisations, executive and legislature are accountable to Courts, it is not clear whom the court is accountable.
•The question is: “who should be judging the judges?”
 
Judiciary needs accountability 
•In India, the collegium of judges makes all appointments for the Higher Judiciary and the democratically elected executive or Parliament has no say in appointing judges.
•Impeachment procedures are quite difficult and complex. 
•The judiciary does not permit an outside agency to investigate them claiming that it would compromise their independence.
•The allegations against judges are investigated by an “in-house mechanism” which has no outside member involved.
•Judges often use the Contempt of Court Act to silence the rightful critics also.
•Judiciary has virtually kept itself outside the purview of the Right of Information Act.
 
In-House Mechanism to check Judicial Accountability
•In 1997, the Supreme Court adopted a charter called the ‘Restatement of Values of Judicial Life’.
•Supreme Court has also passed resolutions that require declaration of assets by every High Court and Supreme Court Judge/Chief Justice
•They have formed an in-house procedure to inquire into any allegation of misbehavior or misconduct  
•In 2002, Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct were adopted.
 
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010
•The Ministry of Law and Justice Introduced in Lok Sabha in 2010.
•It tries to lay down enforceable standards of conduct for judges. 
•It requires judges to declare details of their and their family members' assets and liabilities. 
•It creates mechanisms to allow any person to complain against judges on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity.
•However, the Bill could not become a law.
 
Key Issues and Analysis
•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’.
•A motion for removal of a judge on grounds of misbehaviour can also be moved in Parliament. Such a motion will be referred for further inquiry to the Oversight Committee.
•The Oversight Committee may issue advisories or warnings to judges, and also recommend their removal to the President
 
National Judicial Appointments Commission Act
•The National Judicial Appointments Commission Act was unanimously passed by the Parliament and state legislatures.
•However, this was struck down by the Judiciary on the ground of independence of judiciary. 
 
Judiciary
•Lack of accountability leads to erosion of public trust in judiciary
•It impacts the independence of Judiciary since their working is quote opaque.
•It is against the principles of Natural Justice to be a judge in one’s own cause.  



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