For the first time in India, common people would be able to file complaints against corrupt judges. The proposed National Judicial Council (NJC) would be the first-ever formal body to probe allegations of corruption and misconduct against judges.
The government has decided to provide punitive powers to a proposed panel comprising five senior judges, including the Chief Justice of India, to deal with such allegations.
“Till now there was no avenue available to the common man to file complaints against corruption and misconduct of judges. The efficiency of the judiciary’s own in-house procedure was not known. We’ve now decided to empower the citizens by allowing them to file complaints with the NJC against erring judges,” Law Minister H. R. Bhardwaj told HT.
The government wanted to deal with the issue of judicial conduct and discipline in totality and not on an ad-hoc basis by looking at isolated cases, he said.
While democratic institutions such as the Parliament and the Press had a privileges committee and Press Council to deal with the conduct of these institutions and individuals, “the judiciary had so far failed to come up with a mechanism to check the conduct of its members”, the Law Minister said.
“The Parliament, in an exemplary action, expelled 10 MPs found guilty of accepting cash for asking questions. It was done as a collective will of the house to send out a stern signal. How often has the judiciary acted to rectify the faults within?” Bhardwaj remarked.
The proposed NJC forms a part of the Judges Inquiry Bill, likely to come up for discussion during the Monsoon session of Parliament.
The passage of the bill would mean that a five-member judges committee consisting of the CJI, two Supreme Court judges and two High Court Chief Justices would have the power to conduct inquiries into allegations against judges in the higher judiciary.
“If the allegations are proved, the NJC would have the power to impose minor measures in case of a small misbehaviour or misuse of power. If the case is serious and requires drastic action, the council has been empowered to recommend removal of the judge by forwarding the case to the Parliament,” Bhardwaj said.
A day after Hindustan Times reported that the Central Vigilance Commission had forwarded a complaint with allegations of corruption and misconduct against former CJI Y.K. Sabharwal, the Law Minister said an increasing number of complaints was not good for the judiciary's image. Bhardwaj, however, declined to comment on allegations against Justice Sabharwal, saying “such issues should not be discussed in public at a time when the department is seized of the matter”.