Par panel on Lokpal for revamp of judges' appointment process

The draft report on the Lokpal Bill, which has been circulated to members and would come up for finalisation tomorrow, says if judiciary is brought under the purview of Lokpal, the end result would be the possible and potential prosecution of even an apex court judge before the relevant magistrate exercising the relevant jurisdiction.

"...This would lead to an extraordinarily piquant and an untenable situation and would undermine judicial independence at its very root," the report said identifying the judiciary as a "separate and distinct organ" of the State.

But at the same time, the draft report recalled its recommendations on the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 tabled on August 30 this year, and said the judiciary cannot be left unpoliced and reiterated that the process of judicial appointments be revisited through a fresh legislation.

"...The Committee again recommends, in the present context of the Lokpal Bill, that the entire appointment process of the higher judiciary needs to be revamped and reformed," the draft report states.

It said the present system of appointment process "cannot be allowed and should not be allowed to continue in the hands of a self-appointed common law mechanism created by a judicial order operating since the early 90s."

The Committee on Personnel and Law and Justice has also recommended setting up of a National Judicial Commission (NJC) to create a "broad-based and comprehensive model" for judicial appointments, including, if necessary, by way of amendment of Articles 124 and 217 of the Constitution.

The draft report says the NJC should also be entrusted with powers of both transfer and criminal prosecution of judges for corruption.

"If desired, by amending the provisions of the Constitution as they stand today, such proposed NJC may also give the power of dismissal or removal," the report says.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid, while addressing a press conference here on November 18, had said that the government was "today not looking at the Judicial Commission. We are only looking at improving the present regime and ensuring that the present regime is improved along with a statutory backing of the code of conduct."
When asked if he was not ruling out further legislation for judicial accountability, he had said "absolutely".

Though the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 does not refer to appointment of judges, the same Committee in its report on the measure had said that it "unequivocally feels that the present Bill deals only partially with the problem and the main systematic lacunae remain unaddressed".

"The Committee is of the view that the government has to move beyond an incremental approach and give urgent and due thought to a holistic legislation encompassing the appointment process... to ensure judicial accountability for improved administration of justice," the report on Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill had said in August.

Chairman of the Parliamentary panel on Lokpal, Abhishek Singhvi, however, refused to comment on media reports on the conclusions of the panel.

"I will not comment on leaked report" Singhvi said adding the Committee's brief is not to okay either the governmnent's version of the Lokpal bill or the Jan Lokpal bill.

On Team Anna voicing reservations over the report and that it could lead to another standoff, he said," there is no question of any standoff between a Constitutional authority and others" but added, "we are not here to please any one and every one."

Asked whether his panel has recommended keeping the office of Prime Minister out of the ambit of Lokpal, Singhvi said that such contentions show that even the leaked report has not been accessed as the discussion on the issue of the Prime Minister's inclusion are scheduled only from tomorrow.

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