Govt wants fresh bill to probe complaints against judges

The government favours bringing afresh a bill which seeks to change the present system of probing complaints of “misbehaviour and incapacity” against judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was earlier brought by the previous UPA government but had lapsed following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014. Now the Narendra Modi government wants to bring afresh the legislation with certain changes.
“A mandate…To inculcate independence, impartiality and accountability among judges should be considered without delay. This could be done by reintroducing a modified Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill,” a Law Ministry note says.
Responding to a question in the Lok Sabha in December last year, Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda had said, “The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill has lapsed… We are working on it.” He had said any decision will be taken “after taking suggestions from stakeholders”.
Though the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in March, 2012, it had undergone changes in the Rajya Sabha following protests by the judiciary and jurists who had questioned some of its provisions.
The lapsed bill provided for a comprehensive mechanism for handling complaints made by citizens on grounds of alleged misbehaviour and incapacity against judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.
It also provided for a mechanism to take action against those found guilty after investigation. It also laid down judicial standards and made it incumbent on the judges to declare their assets and liabilities.
The ministry note, prepared for the 9th meeting of the Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms to be held here this month, states that the new Bill could be further strengthened.
It says questions such as whether it would be feasible to penalise those making frivolous complaints that are confidential, whether the scrutiny panel should have judges from the same high court and if having non-judicial members in the oversight committee will be acceptable to judiciary need to be answered.
“Clarity regarding the process of inquiry, power to impose punishment (minor measures), the extent to which the minor measures are enforceable etc. Will also give teeth to the pending legislation,” it says.
It says a National Judicial Oversight Committee for Judicial Accountability could be set up comprising the Chief Justice of India, representing the Judiciary, the Law Minister, representing the Legislature and an eminent person representing the civil society.
The National Judicial Oversight Committee could then develop its own procedures and make rules for creation of similar structures at the state level as well, it suggests.
The Advisory Council of the National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms is chaired by the Law Minister and has the Attorney General, representative from the Bar Council of India, the Law Commission Chairman and an official from the Supreme Court registry as its members.
At times, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju has also attended the meetings usually held every six months.

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