Sunday, May 19, 2013

Judicial Accountability Bill

I was somehow under the impression that the proposed Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill would provide the necessary correctives to wrongdoing in the judiciary. I stand corrected after reading Pavan Varma's article in TOI recently. Varma highlights several infirmities in the proposed legislation:

First, the Oversight Committee proposed by it has no real powers except to pass on a complaint to another layer, namely the Complaints Scrutiny Panel. This scrutiny panel is to consist of three members, two of whom will be sitting judges of the same court as the judges against whom the complaints have been made, clearly an unfair and unworkable proposition.

Second, the composition or the modalities of the investigation team is undefined. Thirdly, the penalties are merely in the form of advisories or warnings or, at best, a recommendation of removal to the president. Fourthly, the Oversight Committee consists of the Attorney General (how can someone who regularly appears before judges, including possibly the one being investigated, take an objective stance on the accusations made). Fifthly, the Bill has no mention of a vital area of reform, viz, the procedure for the appointment of judges. Sixthly, the entire lower judiciary is kept out of the ambit of the Bill. And seventhly, the Bill evokes an atmosphere of total secrecy to proceedings, going so far as to exclude the operation of even the RTI.
There is, of course, the separate issue of appointment of judges. On this, a consensus seems to be emerging within the government and parliament that the matter cannot be left entirely to judges- nowhere in the world do judges appoint themselves.

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