New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Tuesday approved a Bill to regulate the conduct of Supreme Court and high court judges along with placing restrictions on their affiliations in public life.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill 2010 will for the first time put the higher judiciary under the lens of an oversight committee, which will be empowered to investigate complaints against judges.
The committee will be headed by a former Supreme Court chief justice, the attorney general of India, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, a high court chief justice and an eminent person to be appointed by the President.
The Bill will replace the archaic Judges (Inquiry) Act 1968 and is expected to address accusations of corruption in the judiciary. At present, there is no legal recourse to deal with complaints filed by the public against the judges. There is also no law that requires judges to declare assets besides there being no provision for judicial standards.
The Bill lays down a process whereby the committee has to give its report on judges in three months time, Union minister for information and broadcasting Ambika Soni said after the cabinet meeting. “And if need be, the oversight committee can refer the matter to the investigating panel for further inquiry.”
The Bill, which was earlier introduced in 2008, lapsed due to the general election last year.
“The anomalies seen in the previous Bill were taken into account and the Bill, which will be now introduced in Parliament, will be a more powerful one,” Soni said. She clarified that the reservations expressed by various cabinet ministers were addressed in the latest version of the Bill. Complaints will be investigated through a scrutiny committee and a five-member oversight committee.
“The enactment of the Bill will address the growing concerns regarding the need to ensure greater accountability of the higher judiciary by bringing in more transparency and would further strengthen the credibility and independence of the judiciary,” a government statement said. It is expected to be introduced in the winter session.
Previous drafts included guidelines that judges not give media interviews regarding their judgements, not participate in public debates or express views in public on political matters, except in their individual capacity on issues of public interest.
Senior lawyer and Congress party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the Bill sought to strike a delicate balance between regulating conduct and preserving independence. “It’s a matter of detail, but the larger picture, which is important, is that an intermediate mechanism was needed to regulate judicial conduct,” he said.