Tag Archives: judicial reforms

[Notes] The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill tries to lay down enforceable standards of conduct for judges.

The Bill seeks to:-

  • Lay down judicial standards,
  • Provide for the accountability of judges, and
  • Establish mechanisms for investigating individual complaints for misbehavior or incapacity of a judge of the Supreme Court or High Courts. It also provides a mechanism for the removal of judges.
  • The Bill requires judges to practice universally accepted values of judicial life. These include a prohibition on:

(a) close association with individual members of the Bar who practice in the same court as the judge,
(b) allowing family members who are embers of the Bar to use the judge’s residence for professional work,
(c) hearing or deciding matters in which a member of the judge’s family or relative or friend is concerned,
(d) entering into public debate on political matters or matters which the judge is likely to decide, and
(e) engaging in trade or business and speculation in securities.

  • Judges will also be required to declare their assets and liabilities, and also that of their spouse and children. Such declaration has to take place within 30 days of the judge taking his oath to enter his office. Every judge will also have to file an annual report of his assets and liabilities. The assets and liabilities of the judge will be displayed on the website of the court to which he belongs.
  • The Bill establishes the National Judicial Oversight Committee, the Complaints Scrutiny Panel and an Investigation Committee.  Any person can make a complaint against a judge to the Oversight Committee on grounds of ‘misbehaviour’.
  • Initial complaints will be made to the Oversight Committee, and they will be referred to the Scrutiny Panel.
  • A Scrutiny Panel will be constituted in the Supreme Court and every High Court. It shall consist of a former Chief Justice and two sitting judges of that court. If the Scrutiny Panel feels there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the judge, it shall report on its findings to the Oversight Committee. If it finds that the complaint is frivolous, or that there not sufficient grounds for inquiring against into the complaint, it shall submit a report to the Oversight Committee giving its findings for not proceeding with the complaint.
  • The Oversight Committee will consist a retired Chief Justice of India as the Chairperson, a judge of the Supreme Court nominated by the sitting Chief Justice of India, a Chief Justice of the High Court, theAttorney General for India, and an eminent person appointed by the President.
  • If the Scrutiny Panel recommends investigation into a complaint against a judge, the Oversight Committee will constitute an investigation committee to investigate into the complaint. The inquiry committee will consist of not more than three members. It will have some powers of a civil court and also the power to seize documents and keep them in its custody.
  • The investigation committee will frame definite charges against the judge and shall communicate the same to the judge. The judge shall be given an opportunity to present his case, but if he/ she chooses not be heard, the proceedings may be heard without him present.
  • If the charges against a judge are proved, the Oversight Committee may recommend that judicial work shall not be assigned to the judge. It may also issue advisories and warnings if it feels that the charges proved do not warrant the removal of the judge. If the Committee feels that the charges proved merit the removal of the judge, it shall (a) request the judge to resign voluntarily, and if he fails to do so, (b) advise the president to proceed with the removal of the judge. In such a case, the President shall refer the matter to Parliament.
  • A motion for removal of a judge can also be introduced in Parliament by members of Parliament. In such a case, the Speaker or the Chairman can either admit the notice, or refuse to admit it. If the notice is admitted, the matter shall be referred to the Oversight Committee for inquiry.
  • The Bill exempts documents and records of proceedings related to a complaint from the purview of the Right, 2005. The reports of the investigation committee and the order of the Oversight Committee shall be made public.

Key Issues and Analysis

  • The key issue is whether the balance between independence and accountability is maintained by the proposed mechanism in the Bill.  The Oversight Committee has non-judicial members which might impinge on the independence of the judiciary.
  • The Bill penalises anyone who breaches the confidentiality of complaints.  It is questionable whether a penalty is needed for a frivolous complaint that remains confidential.
  • The Scrutiny Panel has judges from the same High Court.  This is different from the in-house procedure of the Supreme Court.
  • The Oversight Committee has non-judicial members.  The procedure of the Committee is not an in-house procedure of the judiciary.  It is not clear whether the power of the Oversight Committee to impose minor measures is constitutionally valid.
  • The Bill does not mention whether a judge has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court against an order of removal issued by the President after Parliament finds him guilty of ‘misbehaviour’.

Judicial Reforms – My Take

I was going through a post of my friend Shailendra. And I tried to put few suggestions. While commenting there, I realized that I wrote enough that it can be transformed into a post. So here are my suggestions:-

1. Judiciary takes lot of holidays. For eg Jabalpur High Court will take 88 holidays in 2011. 52 Sundays, 12 Saturdays, summer holidays from May 23 to June 17, winter holidays from 26 December to 31 December and other festival holidays. Sometimes I think is our Judiciary running a school? When there are so many pending cases, I do not find any justification for so many holidays. These should be curtailed. If you want to know holidays that Supreme Court of India takes click here.

2. Many a times it has been observed that judges are not punctual and sometimes lawyers come late. This should be strictly handled and stringent action should be taken against the erring judges and/or lawyers. This will help in ensuring that court’s time is utilized well.

3. The time required to complete a particular kind of case should be pre-defined and it should only be extended on reasonable reasons. Judges must ensure that trial follows the time limits. Also, there should be time limit for a particular hearing of a case, say 1 hour in each hearing.

4. There are many cases which have a similar point or are of similar nature. They should be clubbed and a single judgement can be used for them. Similar recommendations as far as I remember was made by some Law Commission also.

5. Old cases like the one you mentioned should be separated from the rest of the cases and should get prioritized handling or could be assigned to special tribunal to decide the matter without any in-court hearing unless absolutely necessary.

6. Since judiciary doesn’t have much time arguments in courts should not be prolonged and until and unless absolutely necessary oral argument should not happen. In place of that written legal notes and arguments can be submitted to the court. The judge should be empowered to decide which cases are of absolute importance and should then allow the oral arguments. Cases like interpretation of Constitution can be regarded in this category.

7. Laws should written in very clear and specific manner. “Notwithstanding anything detailed herein and blah blah…” only adds to confusion and creates loop-holes. The existing laws should be written so that a lay man could interpret it. It will reduce the number of cases that reach the court and get involved in the cycle of interpretations and counter-interpretations.

8. Most of the cases filed under civil code can be transferred to tribunals and should reach courts in case of question of interpretation or as appeals.

9. Similarly, judgements should also be clear and should not leave any questions of interpretations.

10. Bars should be severely warned against going on strikes during the working hours and days of the courts.

11. Latest technology can be of great help for the courts. Use of video conferencing, etc can help the time of court while waiting for government officials, MPs, MLAs, ministers and others to come and give witness which most of the time leads to adjournments. This way even if they are ill they can take time out to be present for an hour for the hearing as I above mentioned time of a hearing should also be reduced to say 1 hour in my point 3 above.

12. Information Technology can be used to prepare a database to store cases, judgements, etc and can be used for immediate help in cases which look similar to a previous case which was solved. A good reporting tool can immensely help in this. IT if used intelligently can create wonders for the improving the productivity and efficiency of the cases.