Embarrassing delay

The supreme court collegium has finally directed Karnataka chief justice P D Dinakaran to go on leave. While the decision is welcome, it has come many months too late. The acting chief justice of the Delhi high court, Justice Madan B Lokur, has been appointed in his place. The state high court has for many months had the embarrassment of being headed by a judge against whom impeachment proceedings have started. Justice Dinakaran is yet to comply with the collegium’s directive, and going strictly by the law, he is not bound to. That again exposes the limitations of the present system of dealing with corruption in the higher judiciary. It is many months since the charges of corruption and misconduct against the judge came out into the open. They were investigated on the supreme court’s behalf by the collector of Thiruvallur in whose jurisdictional area the alleged land encroachment by Dinakaran took place. The collector found the charges valid but the CJI wanted another investigation, which also found them to be correct. And still the existing procedure does not provide for early and effective action against the judge.

Though the proposed elevation of the judge to the supreme court was stalled and his judicial functions were withdrawn, his continuance as the administrative head of the court was wrong and improper. Even a judge of the court has expressed his unhappiness with the situation. The impeachment proceedings will now take a long time to come to a definitive stage. The three-member committee appointed by the Rajya Sabha chairman in accordance with the impeachment procedure may take a year to complete its investigations. Even after that, the success of the motion in parliament is anybody’s guess, going by the experience of the Ramaswami case. Since the removal of judges, or even action short of removal, is so difficult, it is necessary to institute more expeditious and credible procedures to deal with charges of corruption and misconduct against them.

The wrong conduct of a single judge can lower the credibility and taint the image of the entire judiciary. Considering the high standing of the judiciary, it is wrong to give errant judges a long rope. There seems to be some uncertainty about the provisions of the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, which is expected to set up a new mechanism to deal with complaints against judges. The government should bring forward an effective legislation and ensure its early passage.

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