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Some order in the judiciary

The judicial accountability Bill is short on many counts, but it can kickstart reforms.

india Updated: Apr 01, 2012 21:27 IST

While there is much to feel good about the passage of the Judi-cial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, in the Lok Sabha, it may not be the panacea to the problem - judicial misconduct - that it seeks to solve. The Bill was introduced in December, 2010, and brought to the Lower House with fresh amendments in December 2011, including one which seeks to restrain judges from making "unwarranted comments" against the conduct of any constitutional authority. Even though the Bill falls short of expectations and many feel that its diagnosis of the problem is wrong, it provides an institutional mechanism for the common man to raise a red flag against corrupt judges. This power, seen in the backdrop of the anti-corruption sentiment prevailing among the aam admi, is a welcome and necessary step. The Bill also seeks to streamline the procedure for the removal of judges. The procedure has been fraught with difficulties, so much so that till date only two judges have been removed.

However, making the removal of judges that little bit easier will not solve the problem at hand. Instead of focusing on the removal process, the emphasis should have been on the screening process through which judges are appointed. As of now, the Supreme Court collegium is the sole body for the appointment of judges and this makes it something of an exclusive 'boys' club.' The executive endorses the recommendations made by the collegiums, both at the level of the high courts and the Supreme Court. No other country in the world follows this procedure. That this process is not working well is clear from the number of vacancies that exists in these courts. According to the latest data, released by the Supreme Court (as on October 1, 2010), there are 279 vacancies in the high courts as against a sanctioned strength of 895. In the Supreme Court, the percentage is better: as against the sanctioned strength of 31 posts, there are seven vacancies. It is not surprising then that there were 43,50,868 cases in the high courts at the end of June 30, 2011.

To make the appointment more transparent and ensure that judges with impeccable track records enter the system, India needs a commission that will have the power to appoint, transfer and remove judges. This panel should not only have judges as members but also competent people from other parts of the administration. In fact, law minister Salman Khurshid also indicated that the Bill is work half done when he promised to institute at a future date an All India Judicial Service to attract the best talent. He added: "The idea of these reforms is to ensure that their [judges'] credibility is not undermined and at the same time the constitutional obligation cast on the President is discharged effectively." It must be made clear here that such a service will not have a direct impact on the judges entering the apex court since it is meant to feed into the lower judiciary. However, this is also the section that has a high level of public interface and needs clean legal officers. What the Indian judicial system needs now is not cosmetic changes that can only remove the existing warts, but a full-scale cleaning operation.