Govt proposes panel to deal with complaints against SC, HC judges; signals fresh run-in between judiciary and executive
In a move that could further intensify the tussle between the judiciary and executive, the government has proposed setting up a mechanism that will deal with complaints against judges in the Supreme Court and in all 24 high courts. The idea has been floated despite resistance from the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and the Supreme Court collegium.
According to a report in the Times of India, the provision for establishment of a secretariat, which has been included in the memorandum of procedure (MoP), for appointment of judges, will also evaluate complaints against the judiciary and recommend necessary action. Moreover, it will monitor candidates to be considered for appointment in the apex court and high courts.
On the other hand, the CJI and the Supreme Court collegium have been opposing such a system as the higher judiciary believes that it will affect their independence.
Currently, all complaints against the judiciary are dealt by the CJI.
The government has not only decided to establish a secretariat for the collegium, in the Supreme Court and in all High Courts, but will also specify rules for appointment of retired judges to the secretariats.
However, the appointment of retired judges will be done by the CJI and the chief justices of the respective High Courts.
The plan to set up a screening mechanism seems to be a move by the government to shelve the proposed Judges Accountability Bill to avoid any conflict with the judiciary.
Last year, the government had indicated that a fresh bill could be brought to change the present system of probing complaints of misbehaviour and incapacity against judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill moved by the previous UPA government had lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
Though the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in March, 2012, it had undergone changes in the Rajya Sabha following protests by the judiciary and jurists who had questioned some of its provisions.
The lapsed bill provided for a comprehensive mechanism for handling complaints made by citizens on grounds of alleged misbehaviour and incapacity against judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.
It also provided for a mechanism to take action against those found guilty after investigation. It also laid down judicial standards and made it incumbent on the judges to declare their assets and liabilities.
Currently, there is no formal mechanism to deal with complaints against judges.
The Supreme Court had rejected the National Judicial Appointments Act last year and had asked the government to frame the MoP that includes five key factors, including a mechanism to ensure transparency in appointments, a secretariat and a mechanism to deal with complaints.
Meanwhile, the government has asserted that the higher judiciary should not see these measures as an infringement on the independence of judiciary as the appointment of retired judges for the secretariat will be made by the CJI and chief justices of HCs.