A much delayed bill which provides for a mechanism for investigation against judges was taken up for consideration in the Lok Sabha amid demands that it should be withdrawn and amended to give it more teeth.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, which was introduced in December, 2010 has now been brought with fresh amendments, including one which seeks to restrain judges from making “unwarranted comments” against conduct of any Constitutional authority.
The House also took up another Bill for consideration which seeks to increase the retirement age of High Court judges from the present 62 years to 65 years, bringing it on par with the retirement age of Supreme Court judges.
It is a Constitutional Amendment Bill which seeks to amend Articles 217 and 224 of the Constitution to increase the retirement age.
Moving the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill for consideration and passage, Law Minister Salman Khurshid said the legislation seeks to set up a mechanism to inquire into complaints against a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court – a matter, he said, was dear to the heart of MPs.
The Bill seeks to repeal the Judges Inquiry Act, 1968 but retain some of its key features like power to Parliament to impeach a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Courts, Khurshid said.
Initiating the debate, D B Chandre Gowda (BJP) said the Bill was “opaque” and inadequate to address the issue and needed a “relook”.Chandre Gowda said the creation of National Judicial Commission was an “utmost necessity” of the day to look into the appointment of judges.
His demand was supported by Manish Tewari (Cong) who said the present bill may not be the “only solution” and there was a need to have a look at the issue of appointment and transfer of judges of Supreme Court and the 21 High Courts.
Chandre Gowda claimed the composition of the Investigation Committee was not clear and maintained that the panel should keep in mind the reputation of the judge in question and the high office he occupies.
Tewari said the bill should be passed rising above partisan politics as there was a “rare unanimity” to have judicial standards and architecture of accountability in the judiciary.
Referring to the passage of the impeachment motion in the Rajya Sabha against Calcutta High Court Judge, Justice Soumitra Sen, he said in the past 64 year, the country has witnessed only “half an impeachment” and the Bill seeks to find a path between appointment and impeachment of a judge.
He said the bill also helps in establishing a constitutional “equilibrium” between the Judiciary, the Executive and the Legislature based on the doctrine of separation of power.
He maintained that while judicial activism was good, judicial overreach could create problems.
Raising his points in English, he said the judiciary understands the language better and they would be watching the proceedings of the House.A key recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel and Law and Justice which examined the Bill seeking to “restrain” judges from making “unwarranted comments” against other constitutional bodies or persons in courts is part of the official amendments of the legislation.
The government has also proposed to make it mandatory for judges to stay away from maintaining “close relations or close social interaction” with lawyers who practice in the same court.
Another key recommendation of the panel to incorporate a necessary provision to have in-camera proceedings of the committee which will scrutinise complaints against judges has also been accepted by the government.
The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December, 2010 and referred to the Standing Committee which gave its recommendations in August this year.
Shailendra Kumar (SP), Vijay Bahadur Singh (BSP) and Arjun Rai (JD-U) made a strong plea for reservation in judiciary for SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and women.
Kumar said the quota was necessary as most of the litigants, suffering from “undue delays” in settling of cases by lower judiciary, belonged to these downtrodden sections.
“Even fast-track courts have failed and there are over 3.27 lakh cases pending before courts – from the tehsildar level to the Supreme Court,” he said.
Seeking transparency in judges’ appointments, Kumar demanded expeditious creation of the National Judicial Commission for the purpose, saying there were many cases in which these appointments were done on the basis of ‘tabad tod maalish’ (servile flattery), prompting laughter in the House.
He called for an awareness campaign, particularly among the rural poor, on how to lodge complaints against judges, as provided in the Bill. Vijay Bahadur Singh (BSP) sought proper scrutiny of judges at the “entry point”, saying the Bill was “silent” on it.
“Make the appointment of judges as difficult as that of the Indian Administrative Service” to prevent nepotism, he said, while seeking quota for SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities.
Asking the government to take the bill back and send it to the Standing Committee, Singh said “the entire judicial system requires a complete overhaul from bumper to bumper”, amid thumping of desks from all sides.
Arjun Rai (JD-U) said that after misusing the CBI and creating a Lokpal which would “toe its line”, the government now wanted to “control” the judiciary through this Bill.
He also suggested that the judicial commission should appoint judges on the basis of the quota laid down for downtrodden sections.
Seeking the passage of the Constitution (114th Amendment) Bill, 2010, Khurshid said it will help the government and the judiciary bring down the pendency of cases from the present 15 years to three to five years in the next three years.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice had recently put its stamp of approval on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill which seeks to increase the retirement age of HC judges from the present 62 to 65 years – bringing it on par with the retirement age of Supreme Court judges.
With 291 posts lying vacant, at present 604 judges are manning the 21 High Courts in the country. Since it is a Constitution amendment bill, it would have to be passed by both houses of Parliament with a majority of two-thirds of the MPs present and voting in its favour.The last time the retirement age of High Court judges was increased was in 1963. The age was then increased from 60 to the present 62 years.
“Most of the reasons adduced by the 5th Pay Commission in support of its recommendation for increasing the age of retirement of the central government employees, such as global practices, increase in life expectancy, improved health standards, need for utilisation of experience and wisdom of senior employees could also apply to judges,” the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill introduced in August, 2010 in Lok Sabha read.