Justice…is blind?

or, Where the courts are beyond the law…

The Judges Inquiry Bill (2007) should be introduced in the Parliament next week. The bill is all about holding the Judiciary accountable for what they do — if and when one feels that either justice has not been meted out or if a judge has been ‘corrupt’. Remember the movies where we have seen judges taking bribes? Now think… So you have been harassed by the police, your neighbour, your in-laws, whoever and decide to move the court to help you out. You move the highest court of law for a case and perhaps the person sitting on that esteemed chair is not honest. Will you be sure that you will get justice? When studying, one of the chapters in my civics book said that when a citizen does not have anywhere to go, the Supreme Court will listen. It will give you justice, it will do right or at least try. Now… the SC is perhaps becoming a body that becomes all-powerful; but that power perhaps will not be used for the people. Judges will perhaps become prosecution, defence, jury and executioner; all rolled into one. And if perhaps there is money involved, the verdict might not make any sense to you and me. WHAT will we do? WHO will we go to?

Here, is You Don’t Know Who (YDKW1) makes a reappearance now to give us the juice on what the entire Judges’ Inquiry Bill is all about; why we need it and what the court has to say about it. Read on, it’s important for all of us.

Contributed by You Don’t Know Who 1

There is a saying along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter to the grass if the elephants make love or if they make war, it gets crushed either way.”

At times, when huge institutions are in conflict, it can feel like that for ordinary citizens. Frankly, all you want to do is get the hell out of the way, but that may not be the best way to deal with things.

Most people in India will not really know about this, but the Parliament is currently looking at a Judges (Inquiry) Bill. Knowing this may not make much difference to your day as an Indian citizen, but it should, because it is quite likely to affect your life. And just because the judiciary and the Parliament are calling each other names, shouldn’t make you forget that the primary purpose of these huge institutions, these elephants, is to serve you.

The Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2007, is supposed to replace the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968. The original Act was brought into force to investigate complaints against judges. It has been used. Once. Unsuccessfully.

This was in the case against the Supreme Court judge, Justice Ramaswamy. Despite the fact that the Inquiry Committee found the judge guilty of 11 out the 14 charges including those of financial fraud in which his actions were “were such as to bring dishonour and disrepute to the judiciary so as to shake the faith and confidence which the public repose in the institution,” Ramaswamy was not removed from office. In fact the impeachment motion against him failed, and he happily went back to his job. No other Inquiry into a judge’s behaviour has taken place, ever.

For the last 15 or so years MPs have been trying to figure out a way to make sure that something like this does not recur, and during that time we have all heard many stories of judicial misbehaviour. A few of them are listed here but the thing is that the Supreme Court has ruled that the judiciary is off-limits.

It has served contempt of court orders against journalists investigating or even the CBI conducting a raid without the Chief Justice of India’s permission. Even the Right to Information Act has been declared not applicable to the judiciary.
Now this might not be all that bad. The impeachment process against a judge of the High Court or Supreme Court has been made tough for a reason.

Judges should be independent and not be open to coercion. But it is also common sense to understand that if somebody has power, and no oversight whatsoever, they might be tempted to abuse it. If they cannot be investigated, cannot be questioned and cannot be removed, there might be a bit of an issue. In fact the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to mean that even appointments are done on the advice of the serving judiciary. So appointments of the judge, any oversight or punishment (and we would never know) is all in a few people’s hands.

Previous governments have tabled a number of bills until we had a draft version of the bill in 2005. It was sent to the Law Commission, headed by Justice Jagganadha Rao, came back with a report that judicial oversight should be exclusively by the judiciary, and the judiciary alone. The Law Commission argued that this is the case in (most of) the rest of the world. The funny thing is that the National Advisory Council had come out with a report saying the exact opposite, that in most parts of the world judicial oversight is by a wider body. For some reason the Law Commission in its 400+ page report somehow forgot to even mention the judicial reforms undertaken by the UK, and the Act passed in 2005 appointing a committee to appoint judges (none of whom are of the judiciary) and an ombudsman to investigate judges (who is not a judge). So we have the current Bill, about which one of the Members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee has said, “we talk about accountability, instead of Judges appointing Judges, which is bad enough in itself; Judges judging judges, even when there are complaints against them, I think, is worse”.

And in the midst of all this when Mid Day magazine raises the issue that the sons of the former Chief Justice of India, Justice Sabharwal, were members of a mall and building development agency that made crores when the Supreme Court forced the implementation of the sealing drive, the Supreme Court cries, ‘Contempt!” and sends the editor and reporters to jail. It really makes you suspicious.

Do you really want such judges passing judgments over your cases? With no oversight, no transparency, nothing? Think about it. Inform yourself. It is your country, these are your institutions. Hold them to account.

PS: HOW??? WHO do we go to? Even ‘truth’ is not seen as enough — even with proof — to bring a judge under the scanner. Andha kanoon? And again I ask, how long will you keep quiet?


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