Rajya Sabha MP and noted Supreme Court lawyer Abhishek Singhvi has a middle-of-the road solution to the logjam over the Judges (Declaration of Assets) Bill the government failed to introduce in Parliament.
Singhvi who is also Congress spokesman spoke to Hindustan Times on the condition that his views shouldn’t be construed as those of the party or of the government.
He said the challenge before Parliament was to balance two competing and vital public interests: the people’s right to know and the public interest of not directly or indirectly eroding, diluting or compromising the judiciary’s independence.
According to Singhvi, one “simple way” of harmonizing these interests would be to provide an additional safeguard or filter before public access to disclosures by judges. “Access to disclosed material in a new model bill can be routed though a high powered committee which will act as safeguarding filter to weed out the patently false, frivolous or vexatious requests,” he said.
Only such a model would have the virtue of giving “content and meaning” to both public interests, Singhvi argued. He said the BJP fished in troubled waters to make a political point while “ignoring the vital issue of direct adverse impact on judicial independence if full access to disclosed material is made available simply on request with no safeguard or barrier.”
Singhvi said politicking on such issues was glaring because an independent judiciary, including an independent legal profession, was a non-negotiable pillar of democracy. Since judges dealt at least with two sides, of which one must lose, they were particularly vulnerable to harassment by “trigger happy” disgruntled elements.
The bill came in for flak from not just the BJP. The entire Opposition helped by a couple of Congress MPs blocked it for a provision perceived as self-defeating. The objectionable clause says that regardless of “anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, the declaration made by a Judge…. shall not be made public or disclosed, and shall not be called for or put into question by any citizen, court or authority…”
Singhvi agreed that primacy cannot be given to one public interest while obliterating the other. He said he would have characterized the BJP as acting “irresponsibly” if it were in power and had brought a law without safeguard or regard to judicial independence. “They’ve made no constructive suggestion for amendment (to the bill),” he said, adding: “Institution bashing is an easy task; institution building takes generations.”
But Singhvi refrained from taking issue with eminent jurist F S Nariman who has urged Supreme Court judges to make voluntary public disclosures to restore the judiciary’s credibility. He said his suggestion “took care not to reduce to vanishing point either of the competing virtues of judicial independence and fair disclosure.”