Lacking in teeth

The new Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill which was cleared by the Union cabinet on Tuesday is a half step forward to address the misconduct and failings of the members of the higher judiciary but it does not go far enough. It proposes to set up a mechanism to inquire into complaints against judges of the supreme court and high courts and lay down a procedure, where none existed short of impeachment, which has not been found to be effective. A five-member oversight committee under a former chief justice has been provided for, which will get the complaints investigated by scrutiny panels within three months and recommend action if there is evidence of wrong-doing. But the recommended action is inadequate, if experience is a guide.

The errant judge can be issued a warning which may not be taken seriously. For a more serious offence the judge may be told to resign. But the advice may not be heeded. As a last resort impeachment is still the remedy and that is time-consuming and tedious. Judges under the shadow of impeachment continue inappropriately in their positions. When a judge is advised to resign, the powers enjoyed by him or her, both judicial and administrative, should also be withdrawn. It should in effect mean suspension of all duties and powers. Former Karnataka chief justice P D Dinakaran, against whom serious charges of corruption and misconduct were convincingly raised, continued to discharge his administrative functions even when he was off his judicial duties. This was highly improper. Similarly, transfer of judges facing charges to other courts should also be avoided, as that is no solution or remedy. The transfers of Justice Dinakaran and Justice Nirmal Yadav of the Punjab and Haryana high court, who also faced a serious charge of corruption, only underlined the helplessness or unwillingness of the system to take prompt action against them.
The new bill seeks to replace the Judges Inquiry Act of 1968, which lacked teeth in dealing with judicial corruption, but retains the basic features of the old law.

Parliament should put in place stronger and more effective measures than those envisaged in the proposed bill when it is introduced in the winter session. Since repeated attempts in the past to reform the system have failed, it must be ensured that the new initiative does not fall short of the requirements.

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