Monday, 20 August 2012

Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill 2010

Reproduced from:

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill tries to lay down enforceable standards of conduct for judges.  It also requires judges to declare details of their and their family members' assets and liabilities.  Importantly, it creates mechanisms to allow any person to complain against judges on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity.  

Highlights of the Bill

  • The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 requires judges to declare their assets, lays down judicial standards, and establishes processes for removal of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. 
  • Judges will be required to declare their assets and liabilities, and also that of their spouse and children.
  • 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’.
  • A motion for removal of a judge on grounds of misbehaviour can also be moved in Parliament.  Such a motion will be referred for further inquiry to the Oversight Committee.
  • Complaints and inquiries against judges will be confidential and frivolous complaints will be penalised.
  • The Oversight Committee may issue advisories or warnings to judges, and also recommend their removal to the President.

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’. 
  • It has a gag-clause which prevents judges from making "unwarranted" oral observations against constitutional authorities.2
  • Doubts about the effectiveness of Scrutiny Panels which are to vet and filter-out frivolous complaints, when composed of members of the same court as the one complained about. 2

2. Editorial 18 August 2012, The Hindu

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