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Assets disclosure by judges to be made mandatory

The government will soon introduce a Bill making it mandatory for judges to disclose their assets and liabilities. It will also bring in legislation to set up a mechanism to enquire into cases of corruption among judges

Union Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily said on June 26, 2009, that he had asked the law secretary to prepare, within a couple of days, a draft of the Bill on disclosure of assets and liabilities by judges so that it could be sent for Cabinet clearance at the earliest.  

The Bill is part of the 100-day agenda of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the minister said his ministry’s plans for judicial reform would be made public within a month or two.  

The move, which faced some resistance from the judicial establishment, is aimed at bringing greater transparency in the workings of the Supreme Court and the country’s high courts.  

Moily said it was wrong to assume that the judiciary was against such legislation, adding that the government would take it into confidence before the Bill was passed. “We are not on a confrontationist path,” he clarified. 

So far, Supreme Court judges have voluntarily disclosed their assets and liabilities to the Chief Justice of India (CJI). However, the CJI has refused to place the statements in the public domain, insisting a law be enacted first to prevent misuse of such information. 

The Bill, along with the Women’s Reservation Bill and legislation to set up commercial courts in four metropolitan cities, will form the thrust of the law ministry’s agenda for the upcoming budget session, beginning July 2. The move to set up commercial courts in the four metros is aimed at putting in place a system within the judiciary to handle high-value cases as well as those involving arbitration. 

The ministry also plans to put in place a mechanism to make the legal system “affordable and accessible” to the “last man in the line”, as well as cut delays in the courts’ workings.  

Unveiling proposals to tone up the judicial system, Moily said he had plans to establish a National Judiciary Service along the lines of the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Foreign Service to enable lateral entries at different levels of the judiciary, and to set up a National Judiciary Commission. 

Steps will be taken to fill vacancies at various levels. There were five vacancies in the Supreme Court, 251 in the high courts, and over 3,000 at district and sessions courts. In the Allahabad High Court alone, there were 80 vacancies. 

As of March 31, 50,613 cases were pending in the Supreme Court, 38,74,090 cases in the high courts, and 2.64 crore cases in district and sessions courts. Measures will be taken to bring down these numbers. “Presently, cases are pending, on average, for 15 years. This will be brought down to three years.” 

Moily said discussions were on with National Knowledge Commission Chairman Sam Pitroda and legal experts on how modern tools of information and communications technology could be used to make the judicial process more effective, affordable and accessible to the common man. 

“We are on the job… The road map for judicial reforms will be ready by September 15,” the minister said. 

Source: The Hindu, June 27, 2009
            Business Standard, June 27, 2009
            The Economic Times, June 26, 2009