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Judges Accountability Bill Introduced In Lok Sabha

PTI 01 Dec 2010, 17:41:49 IST
PTI
New Delhi, Dec 1: Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts would be subject to scrutiny of a high-level committee and those facing serious charges of misconduct may be asked to step down, according to a new bill that was introduced in the Lok Sabha today.

The much-delayed Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 proposes to make provisions for declaration of assets and liabilities by judges within 30 days of assuming office and also lays down certain guidelines for them.

The measure assume significance in the wake of recent cases involving allegations of misconduct against the judiciary prompting even the Supreme Court to comment on the 'uncle judge' syndrome in the Allahabad High Court.

The bill, tabled by Law Minister M Veerappa Moily amid din created by the Opposition demanding a JPC probe into 2G spectrum allocation, provides for setting up a five-member National Judicial Oversight Committee to be headed by a former Chief Justice of India.

Other members of the apex committee would be a Supreme Court judge, a Chief Justice of a High Court, an eminent person nominated by the President and the Attorney General of India, who would be the ex-officio member.

The bill seeks to replace the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968 while retaining its basic features. Under the new measure, a judge not facing serious charges may be let off after a warning or issuance of advisory. However, if any judge faces serious charges, that would require further probe, that particular judge may be asked to step down.

"And if he (the judge in question) fails to do so, then (the Oversight Committee can) advise the President to proceed for the removal of the judge and the President shall refer the matter to Parliament."

According to the guidelines or code of conduct, the judges should not have close association with individual members of the bar and not allow any member of their immediate family to appear before them in courts.

The proposed law expects judges not to contest election to any office of club, society or other association, except those associated with the law or any court.

According to its 'Judicial Standards', the members of the higher judiciary should have no bias in judicial work or judgements on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

The assets and liabilities of the judges of the Supreme Court, including that of the Chief Justice of India, will be displayed on the website of the apex court. A similar exercise will be undertaken by the High Courts.

The bill has provision for setting up of Scrutiny Committees to which cases will be referred by the Oversight Committee.

The Screening Committee will be in place for Supreme Court and in each of the 21 High Courts.

The Committees would investigate the charges and submit reports within three months to the Oversight Committee.

A former Chief Justice of India and two judges of the apex court will be members of the Screening Committee for the Supreme Court. Similarly, a former Chief Justice of High Court and two judges of High Court would be members of the Screening Committees to be constituted for the High Courts.

If there is a complaint of misconduct against the Chief Justice of India, it will not be referred to the Scrutiny Committee but will be scrutinised by the Oversight Committee.

At present there is no legal provision for dealing with complaints filed by the public against judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, the bill said.

The bill also has provision for allowing the common man to complain about the alleged misconduct of a judge. But if the complaint is found to be "frivolous or vexatious", the complainant can be punished with rigorous imprisonment of upto five years and a fine which may extend to Rs five lakh.

The bill was earlier introduced in Parliament and referred to a standing committee. With the expiry of the last Lok Sabha, the bill had to be reintroduced.

The bill was brought before the Cabinet in March this year but was referred to a Group of Ministers after sharp differences over the provision of "minor reprimand" for members of the higher judiciary arose during the meeting. PTI