New law to probe complaints against judges on the cards

RSTV Bureau

Parliament-of-IndiaNarendra Modi government is contemplating to bring in a legislation aiming at addressing the complaints of “misbehaviour and incapacity” against judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. The fresh bill that may be brought in after amending the lapsed legislation seeks to change the present system of probing complaints against the higher judiciary.

The Congress-led UPA government had brought in the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, but that had lapsed following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in May 2014.

“A mandate…to inculcate independence, impartiality and accountability among judges should be considered without delay. This could be done by reintroducing a modified Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill,” a note by the Union Law Ministry read.

The note is prepared for the 9th meeting of the Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms to be held this month in the national capital.

Earlier, during the winter session last year, responding to a question in Lok Sabha Union Law minister DV Sadananda Gowda had said, “The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill has lapsed… We are working on it.”

He had further added that any changes to the existing mechanism will be made “after taking suggestions from stakeholders”.

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in March, 2012, but it underwent changes in the Upper House following protests by the judiciary and jurists who had questioned some of its provisions.

File Photo: Supreme Court of India

File Photo: Supreme Court of India

The lapsed bill provided for a comprehensive mechanism for handling complaints made by citizens on the grounds of alleged misbehaviour and incapacity against judges of the Supreme Court and high courts. It had also provided for a mechanism to take action against those found guilty after investigation. Besides, it laid down judicial standards making it incumbent on the judges to declare their assets and liabilities.

According to the Union Law ministry, the said note will also deal with the questions such as whether it would be feasible to penalise those making frivolous complaints that are confidential, whether the scrutiny panel should have judges from the same high court and if having non-judicial members in the oversight committee will be acceptable to judiciary.

“Clarity regarding the process of inquiry, power to impose punishment (minor measures), the extent to which the minor measures are enforceable etc. will also give teeth to the pending legislation,” the note said.

On the cards may be a National Judicial Oversight Committee for Judicial Accountability comprising the Chief Justice of India, representing the Judiciary, the Union Law Minister, representing Legislature and an eminent person representing the civil society.

The National Judicial Oversight Committee could then develop its own procedures and make rules for creation of similar structures at the state level as well, according to the Law ministry note.

The Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms is chaired by the Law Minister and has the Attorney General, representative from the Bar Council of India, the Law Commission Chairman and an official from the Supreme Court registry as its members.

(With inputs from the PTI)