Bill on judges' assets next week

Details will be kept confidential, beyond the ambit of the RTI Act

The Union Cabinet has approved the draft bill—a brain child of Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily—paving the way for making it compulsory by the members of the higher judiciary, their spouses and children to reveal their assets. However, the details of the information will be kept confidential, beyond the ambit of the Right to Information Act. The new bill, in its present form, protects the judges from placing their declaration in public domain, said a Law Ministry official.

According to the draft provision, the chief justice of India  (CJI) will have to give the details of the assets owned by him, his wife and children to the President of India. The other judges of the apex court, high court chief justices and judges are to provide the details to the CJI. The judges of the high court are to provide details to the chief justice of their respective high courts, which will be forwarded to the CJI. However, the bill has provided freedom to the individual judges of the Supreme Court  and the high courts to go public with their assets if they feel like, but it is not compulsory.

It is learnt that if the CJI felt the declaration submitted every year had discrepancies, he could seek explanation from the individual judge about the additional assets.

During the hearing on the issue on March 17, 2009, the Supreme Court registry had submitted before the Delhi High Court that the judges needed a law to protect their privacy and that the information should be beyond the reach of the public under the RTI.
Appearing before the high court, the solicitor general had submitted: “There should be enough safeguard to protect the declaration from being misused.’’ The Supreme Court had said there was every possibility of the documents being misused by the public to tarnish the image of the judiciary. However, there is an internal process in the Supreme Court to provide information about the assets by the judges to the CJI. But the declaration is beyond the purview of public consumption.

Judges’ accountability

The Union Cabinet also had a discussion on a piece of legislation on judges’ accountability making them more responsible to the rule of law of the land.
The proposed legislation seeks to introduce a mechanism to inquire into the cases of misconduct by the judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.

Now, inquiry into any misconduct by a judge is done by a  three-judge committee appointed by the chief justice of India.

DH News Service

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