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Judges Inquiry Bill generating intense debate

There has been a rapid deterioration in society and judges come from the same society. Judges need to be judged. Jatin Gandhi takes us through the Bill.

india Updated: Dec 22, 2006 19:44 IST

Even before it has been debated in Parliament, The Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2006, that was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 19, the last day of the winter session, is generating intense debate outside.

The bill that aims at setting up the National Judicial Council to investigate and inquire into complaints against judges of the Supreme Court and high courts is "inadequate" according to former Union Law Minister and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) General Secretary Arun Jaitley.

"Judicial independence should not be compromised but there has to be an effort where improprieties can be effectively checked. I have my reservations whether the proposed mechanism will be effective,” Jaitley told HT on Saturday. Jaitley was the law minister when the NDA government had proposed a similar council with non-judges as members as well.

The council proposed now by the UPA government will have the Chief Justice of India (CJI) as its chairperson and two senior most judges of the Supreme Court and two chief justices of the high court, all four to be nominated by the CJI, as members. “In the entire accountability process being proposed, there is no one from outside the fraternity of judges. There is a need for having a nominee of the law minister or the government on the council for ensuring accountability,” Jaitley said.

The bill was introduced by Union Law minister HR Bhardwaj in the Lok Sabha and aims at “establishing the National Judicial Council to undertake preliminary investigation and inquire into allegations or misbehaviour or incapacity of a Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court."

It bars the council from investigating acts committed more than six months before the date of complaint. “No such complaint shall be entertained and inquired into with respect to any act or conduct constituting misbehaviour which has taken place six months prior to the filing of the complaint," the procedure laid down in the bill states. The bill also lays down a period of six months for the council to complete the inquiry within a period of six months. “The six-month period stipulated for completing the inquiry could be insufficient,” said Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate of the Supreme Court.

Bhushan added: "The council should not have sitting judges because they are already overburdened and they should not decide on brother judges with whom they share the bench every day. The council lacks the necessary investigative powers making the bill a non-starter.”

Former CJI Justice VN Khare said setting up the council will give the backing of a law to the "in-house procedure set in motion by the Supreme Court in 1997."

"There has been a rapid deterioration in society and judges come from the same society. Judges need to be judged. This bill is a starting point," Justice Khare said. He recalls that as CJI he had expressed ‘helplessness’ in dealing with the Mysore sex scandal, allegedly involving three judges of the Karnataka High court, "because there was no accountability mechanism available then."

Email Jatin Gandhi: jatin.gandhi@hindustantimes.com