M A I N   N E W S

Bill on judges’ accountability in Parliament soon
National Judicial Council in the offing

New Delhi, October 22
After much delay, a Bill aimed at ensuring the accountability of judges is expected to be introduced in Parliament during the winter session beginning next month.
The Judges (Inquiry) Bill provides for setting up a National Judicial Council (NJC) to probe any misconduct by a judge of the Supreme Court or High Courts.

The proposed law, which entails certain amendments to the Judges (Inquiry) Act of 1968, provides for a procedure under which any person can make a complaint to the NJC against judges except the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

The NJC will comprise the CJI, two senior-most judges of the apex court and two senior-most chief justices of the High Courts nominated by the CJI.

The Bill provides for inquiries by the NJC in cases of complaints against a judicial officer, official sources said.

The Bill was initially proposed to be introduced in Parliament in last year's winter session but this could not be done due to differing views in the judiciary.

Under the new law, a judge against whom prima facie evidence of an illegal act is found, would be asked not to attend courts pending an inquiry, the sources said.

If a judge is found guilty, he will be asked to put in his papers, failing which he will be removed, they said.

The proposed law will make it easier to take action against a judge found guilty, the sources said. At present, a complex and long-drawn process of impeachment is required to remove such a judge.

While preparing the Bill, the government had sought the views of Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal, who is believed to have given certain suggestions.

Former Chief Justice R C Lahoti, a day before demitting office on October 31 last year, had said he did not agree with the Bill in its current form. He suggested several changes in it and recommended that the Law Commission's views should also be sought by the government.

The Law Commission, after a "comprehensive study" of the Bill, suggested a number of changes, including the inclusion of a whistleblower provision aimed at protecting those making complaints against judges.

"If a complainant...is apprehensive of reprisals, he should have the right to request...that his name be kept confidential," the Commission said in its 195th Report on the draft Judges (Inquiry) Bill of 2005.

The entire complaint proceedings should be kept under wraps from the start until "minor measures were imposed by the Council or its recommendation for removal is placed in Parliament", said the Commission. "Any breach of confidentiality will amount to an offence."

The Law Commission also recommended a total ban on the complainant or witnesses going public about facts and facets of the case, including allegations in the complaint, as well as the names of the complainant, witnesses and the judge concerned. — PTI



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