The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill will set judicial standards and make judges accountable for their lapses. It will also mandate that judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court declare their assets and liabilities, including those of their spouses and dependants
The Union Cabinet has approved the draft Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 that provides for setting up a five-member oversight committee to deal with complaints against members of the higher judiciary.
Official sources said judges would also be required to declare their assets and file an annual return of assets and liabilities. All these details will be put up on the websites of the Supreme Court and high courts. It will further require judges not to have close ties with any member of the Bar, especially those who practise in the same court.
“The enactment of the Bill will address the growing concerns regarding the need to ensure greater accountability of the higher judiciary by bringing in more transparency, and will further strengthen the credibility and independence of the judiciary,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters after a meeting of the Union Cabinet.
The proposed oversight committee will be headed by a former chief justice of India and include the attorney general, a Supreme Court judge, a chief justice of a high court and an eminent person nominated by the President.
The Bill to replace the Judges Inquiry Act retains its basic features but will empower people to lodge complaints against erring judges, including the chief justice of India and chief justices of the high courts. At present, there is no legal mechanism to deal with complaints against judges, who are governed by ‘Restatement of Values of Judicial Life’, adopted by the judiciary as a code of conduct without any statutory sanction.
On receiving a complaint, the committee will forward it to a system of scrutiny panels. In the case of a complaint against a Supreme Court judge, the scrutiny panel will consist of a former chief justice of India and two sitting Supreme Court judges; in the case of a complaint against a high court judge, the panel will have a former chief justice of the high court and two of its sitting judges. Members of the Supreme Court panel will be nominated by the chief justice of India, and that of the high court panels by the chief justice of the concerned high court.
Scrutiny panels will have the powers of a civil court. For instance, they can call for witnesses and evidence. They will be required to give their report within three months to the oversight committee. In the case of a complaint against a chief justice, the oversight committee itself will conduct the scrutiny.
On receiving the report from the scrutiny panels, the oversight committee will set up a committee to further investigate the case. Like the scrutiny panels, the investigation committee will have the powers of a civil court; it will have the power to frame definite charges.
If the charges are not proved, the investigation committee can dismiss the case. Otherwise, it will give a report to the oversight committee, which can issue an advisory or warning if the charges are not too serious. If the charges are serious, the committee can request the judge concerned to resign. If the judge does not do so, the oversight committee will forward the case to the President with an advisory for his removal.
In such an event, copies of all relevant documents will be laid before Parliament and an impeachment motion moved. In the Lok Sabha, not less than 100 members will be required to move the motion; in the Rajya Sabha not less than 50 members will be needed.
Source: The Hindu, October 6, 2010
The Indian Express, October 6, 2010