New Delhi: From the outset, Veerappa Moily has signalled his intent to etch his legacy in the law ministry. In the year that he has occupied office as the law minister, Moily has spoken out strongly for legal reforms, including on contentious issues such as the accountability of judges. In an interview, Moily spoke on this and a range of other issues; he justified the need to include caste in the ongoing census as a measure to not only ensure better targeting of reservations, but also to prevent the so-called creamy layer from reaping the benefits of caste-based affirmative action. Edited excerpts:
You have signalled your intent on legal reforms. What can we expect in the next few months?
We have laid the foundation for taking our reform measures forward. First, it relates to judicial reforms with particular focus on disposal of cases... Then we worked out a blueprint for (a) national legal mission which has been presented to the cabinet for an in-principle approval. It consists of the road map for judicial reforms. We have big plans to create e-courts, introduction of e-governance and also a national arrears grid. The national arrears grid ascertains the exact number of arrears in every court on a scientific basis and seeks to oversee continued reduction of arrears. The focus is how to reduce the (duration of the) case to less than three years. Now a case goes on for (an average of) 15-17 years.
We require judges and infrastructure. For this, we will have an SPV (special purpose vehicle) which will look after the funding part of it. We also have the programme of fast-track courts. We have extended their period as they were to expire in March. We would like to introduce this kind of a concept of fast-track courts for many other cases like that of senior citizens, women, children and cases involving terrorism. The idea is that innocent people should not suffer. At the same time, people who have committed crimes should be punished...
Speedy justice: Union law minister Veerappa Moily says the government would like to extend the concept of fast-track courts for cases such as those involving senior citizens, women and children. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
We are also devising a national litigation policy which will be operationalized by the law ministry. The fact is that the government today, at every level, whether at the state level or Central, is the biggest litigant.
What happened to the judicial accountability Bill?
As of now, the accountability standards of the judges are only dealt under the Judges (Inquiry) Act of 1968, which only refers to the impeachment proceedings and, very rarely, this happens.
Not a single case has been tried. Now two cases are pending, I do not know how long will it take. That is why, after a good consultation and deliberation spreading over about six-seven months and talking to all the stakeholders, including the judiciary, we have proposed a more comprehensive Judges Standards and Accountability Bill, which will consequently repeal the Judges (Inquiry) Act of 1968.
Now this would be a stand-alone Act, maybe an ideal Act which will take care of the standards and accountability among judges. Ultimately, the impact of the Act...will be that any judge who has a tainted record cannot become a judge. Even if he or she becomes a judge, he would be watched because he needs to maintain certain standards and accountability, which is prescribed under the law.
Impeachment is one part of it and the right to impeach will still stay with Parliament. Rest of the offences and acts of omissions and commissions will be dealt (with) by the oversight committee which is to be presided over by the vice-president as the chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
Do you think the present system of a collegium of senior judges selecting judges is working well, because we have complaints of some good judges (candidates) being left out in the selection process?
No, I don’t want to pass a value judgement on that, but at the same time the memorandum of procedure (on appointment of judges) which was accepted by both the judiciary and the government (at) that time had arisen out of the judgement of the then chief justice (J.S.) Verma.
Thereafter, justice (S.P.) Bharucha presided over an advisory. These two judgements of the Supreme Court are interpreted as the memorandum of procedure, which was drafted at that time. When I took over, I revisited the procedure. I found that there were 10 issues...I realized that the memorandum of procedure did not reflect the real spirit and tenor of the two judgements.
Then we referred the matter to the attorney general. He has practically endorsed my view. Now we have redrafted the memorandum of procedure and sent it to the Chief Justice of India.
Already, there is a memorandum of procedure (on appointment of judges) which we are going by as of today. I am not reiterating that the same thing will continue. Maybe we have to revisit the procedure. Whatever we do, we need to take the judiciary into full confidence.
Do you favour the entry of foreign legal firms into the country?
It is not a question of agreeing. There is already a petition pending in the Madras high court and the Bombay high court has already given its judgement. Within a few days, we will discuss the matter with the attorney general of India, the solicitor general of India, who is also the chairman of the Bar Council of India.
You recently favoured a caste-based census. Don’t you think it is a regressive policy?
We are living in a regressive society and nobody knows in which direction we are going... We would like to live in that society in which there is no caste. When we brought out the 93rd amendment to the Constitution to provide for reservation for backward classes in education, the Supreme Court challenged us on this. What is the basis for 27%? We need to calculate from the 1931 census figures...And if the reservation is in place in the country, it is at the mercy of (the) judiciary and not because of the law of the country... How do you calculate the creamy layer unless you know the demographic profile of the country? (Hypothetically) tomorrow one Supreme Court bench will come and say, in view of the lack of the national data, we are scrapping reservation...The reality is caste and we need to eliminate caste. That can be done through socio-economic and educational programmes and these programmes will have to be based on some national data which is not available now.
Has the cabinet approved it?
No, it has not been presented to the cabinet.