Crisis of credibility

Former law minister Shanti Bhushan’s affidavit before the supreme court which claimed that eight of the 16 former chief justices of India were ‘definitely corrupt’ has shock value, though the idea of corruption in judiciary is not new.Even the judges of the higher courts have admitted the prevalence of corruption. A supreme court chief justice had said 20 per cent of the judges might be corrupt and a high court chief justice had openly said that “in our judiciary anybody can be bought.” What Shanti Bhushan said is much the same but it is more damning because he is more specific and has named the judges in the affidavit.

He has challenged the court to haul him up for contempt, the ultimate weapon of the court against which defence is difficult, and laid his head on the chopping block. He might or might not be punished for his effrontery, but unfortunately in the present environment his action would carry credibility with the public.

The Ramaswamis, the Dinakarans and the Nirmal Yadavs of our higher courts, and those who have defended and protected them have created that environment. The stories of misconduct and sleaze that course through the corridors of courts, lawyers’ offices and even public places thicken that environment. Hardly has any judge been made to pay for any wrong-doing. It is difficult to get away with charges against a judge, even if the charges are true. It is known that judges shield themselves from scrutiny and criticism and misuse the immunity given to them which is meant to ensure that they are not subjected to wrongful attacks. A privilege accorded to them to maintain the high status of the judiciary is often misused.

When judges themselves pass judgement on them, as is the present practice, it is difficult to punish a judge. The legislation that promises to introduce a new system is hanging fire for years. There is no certainty if it will improve the system, if the rot is so deep and widespread as Shanti Bhushan has charged, but is necessary to hasten with it. It would be unfair to hold that  the former law minister was driven by personal motives or sentimental reasons when he made his charge. He has for long campaigned actively against judicial corruption and had even named some judges in the past for wrongdoing. His professional standing and his past position of privilege make him credible.

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