Judicial Accountability Bill gets LS nod

New Delhi: A much delayed bill which provides for a mechanism for investigation against judges was passed the Lok Sabha amid din created by pro-Telangana members. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, which was introduced in December, 2010 was brought to the Lower House with fresh amendments in December last year, including one which seeks to restrain judges from making "unwarranted comments" against conduct of any Constitutional authority.

According to the revised bill, in case any judge who makes oral comments against other constitutional authorities and individuals, would render himself/herself liable for "judicial misconduct." Making a brief reply amid pandemonium to the debate on the Bill which took place during the Winter Session, 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.

He said the bill aims striking a "balance" between maximising judicial independence and laying down accountability at the same time for members of the higher judiciary. 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. At present there is no legal provision for dealing with complaints filed by the public against the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. The judiciary had adopted resolutions for declaration of assets by Judges and "Restatement of values of Judicial Life".

However, there is no law that requires the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts to declare their assets and liabilities and also there is no statutory sanction for judicial standards. 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 last year. Team Anna and opposition parties have been demanding an effective mechanism to deal with corruption in higher judiciary.

Interestingly, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was introduced simultaneously with the Constitution (114th Amendment) Bill, 2010, which seeks to increase the retirement age of High Court judges from 62 to 65, at par with the retirement age of Supreme Court judges, during the last days of Winter session. But in the present session, only the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was taken up for passage amid speculation that the Opposition is not satisfied with the bill on retirement age. A Constitution amendment bill requires to be passed by a two-third majority of the members present which should not be less than half the strength of the House. A parliamentary panel had approved the retirement age bill in toto.