A day after
reported that a bill to allow people to speak out against corruption in judiciary was gathering dust, the government on Monday said work on the Judges Inquiry Bill was in final stages after “a thorough re-examination of some of its provisions”.
The bill would be placed before the Cabinet soon, and was likely to be taken up for discussion during the Monsoon session of Parliament. Law Minister HR Bhardwaj told HT that a code of conduct for judges, which included provisions like making it mandatory for them to declare their wealth and stringent measures to curb misconduct, have now been added to the bill.
Asked about the delay in proceeding with the bill, the minister said: “Thorough examination takes time. We have relied heavily on the Canadian model for this bill. We want to present it as soon as possible to the Parliament, but not in a hurry. There should be a debate on the judicial accountability and not acrimony.”
Bhardwaj said the ministry carried out “extensive changes” to the original bill after it received the Parliamentary Standing Committee report, which insisted on maintaining the supremacy of the Parliament while dealing with complaints against judges. “We examined the standing committee report thoroughly and agreed with it that some of the provisions in the original bill affected the powers of the Parliament. Extensive changes have now been made in the bill, which is ready to go the cabinet, and after its nod should be discussed in the Monsoon session,” Bhardwaj said.
Agreeing to the need for a code of conduct for judges, the Law Minister said: “The bill now gives a legal backing for the compliance of code of conduct for judges and Restatement of values for judicial life.” Asked to respond on Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan’s refusal to make public the details of judges’ assets, he said: “Every institution of democracy should be above any kind of suspicion. When public servants have offered to declare their assets, there is no harm for the judiciary also to do the same. If judges provide details of their wealth, their prestige would be further enhanced in the eyes of the common man.”
Disagreeing with the present system of appointment of judges, Bhardwaj said the procedure of a committee of judges (collegium) deciding the names had failed to serve its purpose.
“The collegium concept originated from within the judiciary and in my view was not in accordance with the Constitutional provisions. Fellow judges were supposed to advice the CJI in judges appointments, but it has proved counter-productive and infact limited the powers of the Chief Justice also,” he said.
“The judiciary should have the right to recommend names, but the appointment of judges should be done by the President on the council of ministers’ advice. The President should not be bound by any collegium,” he said.
Bhardwaj refused to be drawn into the debate of implementation of the Right to Information Act in judiciary, saying, “no directions can be issued by the government to the judiciary on its administrative issues. It can streamline the procedure to provide information to the people”.