Millennium Post

Independent but accountable

The remarks of the Chief Justice of India on Independence Day on the judiciary have come in the context of the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, which has already been passed by the Lok Sabha in March but which has still to get past the Rajya Sabha. They also come in the wake of a statement by the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, on judicial corruption. The chief justice has warned the government that the laws it makes ‘should not tinker with the very constitutional principle of judicial independence.’ In saying so, the chief justice has rightly highlighted a principle that is at the core of our constitution. There is no doubt whatsoever that good governance and the rule of law demands an unbiased, independent judiciary. The doctrine of the separation of powers that informs our constitution draws the boundaries for the functioning of all the three organs of the state, which are the legislature, executive and the judiciary. Judicial independence is all the more importance because the judiciary has the responsibility to act as a watchdog. It has not only to keep a check on the functioning of the executive and the legislature but also to ensure that the three state organs keep within their limits and not interfere in each other’s functioning. The judiciary interprets the constitution  and settles disputes and, therefore, no extraneous pressures should be brought on it by any party to give favourable judgements, which demands independence.

Yet there are problems with the judicary, an important one of which has been highlighted by Banerjee when she recently commented in the West Bengal state assembly that, ‘At times, favourable verdicts are given in return for money. There are instances when judgments have been purchased. There is corruption among a section of the judiciary.’ There is no denying that corruption within the judiciary is an important issue and, in recent years, many such cases have surfaced. A problem with dealing with such cases is that some of the very safeguards that have been put in place to ensure judicial independence interfere sometimes in the ensuring of judicial accountability and the punishment of judges for corruption. Thus, for instance, it is exceedingly difficult to remove a judge of the higher judicary on charges of corruption as the procedure for this is cumbersome. It is, in part, to curb this corruption, and to make the judiciary more accountable and to ensure that judges of the highest calibre and character are selected that the new law is being brought in. Therefore, the new Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, being brought in to cover the gap in law, has to be drafted very carefully so that the principle of judicial independence is preserved even while it ensures the rapid removal and punishment of corrupt judges.  
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