Tag Archive | Chief Justice of India

Insure Indian Lawyers Against Clients’ Claims : New Law Mag – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                      September 26, 2007

Insure Indian Lawyers Against Clients’ Claims: New Law Mag

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Professional negligence insurance for lawyers and other such issues are highlighted in a new legal magazine, Halsbury’s Law Monthly, unveiled by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan last evening.

When an advocate fails to provide competent services to his or her client (Photo: ethics-lawyer.com)

Insurance is intended to discourage practices and ways that hurt clients’ interests without much of a hope for them to recover losses, unless they have the stomach for protracted litigation– against their lawyer.

A Monthly piece stresses making professional negligence insurance mandatory in India, pointing out that it will make lawyers more vigilant and protect the clients’ interests.

Such measure can insure lawyers against claims for damages from clients who think the service received was not worth the fee given.

Speaking after unveiling a large-sized display of the magazine cover, Justice Balakrishnan spoke highly of the authoritative and reliable output of LexisNexis group which includes Butterworths, one of the largest legal publishers with over 180 years of history.

He said the publications were known for bringing out material which was a good source of reference professionals would like to possess and hoped the new magazine would live up to the publisher’s reputation.

”I hope the Monthly will maintain the high standards of Halsbury’s,” Justice Balakrishnan said.

LexisNexis’s Asia managing director John Atkinson told participants that the new venture would focus on such up and coming areas as outsourcing, retail, corporate and cyber laws and intellectual property.

The new publication is the publisher’s first in collaboration with Cybermedia, which already puts out nearly a dozen magazines.

LexisNexis also publish Halsbury’s Laws, The Malayan Law Journal, Mallal’s Digest, Laws of Malaysia, Hong Kong Cases and CaseBase.

Aalok Wadhwa, its managing director for India, said the magazine would orient readers to the growing potential of the corporate legal world in the current socio-economic environment.

In remarks afterwards, Atkinson told UNI that the group’s publications and efforts aim at promoting transparency and efficiency in legal affairs.

He cited how LexisNexis has implemented electronic-filing and electronic-service projects in some parts of the world, such as Colorado and Delaware.

”And it works. We’d certainly like to offer it in India.” Such efforts benefit not just courts, but also law firms by giving them prompt access to data, he said.

Asked whether the Monthly will focus on problems of access to justice or of corruption, Atkinson said initially the magazine expected to focus on such areas as the corporate law, which is a growing entity.

As for what he dubbed ”underlying problems,” he said the magazine has an editorial Board, mostly made up of lawyers, which will take such decisions.

Asked how the Butterworths have been roping in Judges to write for them, Atkinson said it was done as anywhere in the world, by first identifying a subject and then finding out who has the specific experience in that field of law and ask them.

A book assignment usually takes a couple of years to complete, and writers are only paid royalty from sales, he said.

UNI MJ

Whither Reform ? Time To Audit Law-making ? – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                        February 19, 2006

Whither Reform ? Time To Audit Law-making ?

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

English: Parliament building in New Delhi (San...

Where Laws Are Made – Sansad Bhavan or Parliament Building (Photo: Wikipedia)

New Delhi (UNI) – Pendency went up 25 per cent – to 30 million cases – as authorities spent 2005 computerising courts, equipping judges with laptops, promoting arbitration and legal literacy and planning nyayalayas across rural India– all the while deferring reforms mostly to 2006. Maybe !

The year had begun with a call in the presence of a senior Supreme Court judge to curtail lawyers’ fees and sieve out those who do not conform to the expectations of a noble calling.
About same time, President A P J Abdul Kalam was questioning a bid to transfer a high court chief justice whose concern over judicious conduct had 25 brother judges attempting a ‘strike.’
And Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj was announcing moves to strengthen the Judge’s Inquiry Act and a Bill to appoint a Lokpal to ensure accountability in executive, legislature and judiciary– the three key branches of governance.
Those events marked the very first week of 2005.
If such straws in the wind– and a new left-backed United Progressive Alliance at helm– produced hopes of real reforms in delivery of justice and rule of law blowing in soon– the wait did not end with the year.
The Right To Information Act, 2005 which came into force on October 12– cited by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh among key achievements– is seen by experts as a valuable tool to expose corruption.
Legal redress or remedy which include compensating victims and punishing culprits is another matter.
Media ‘stings’ which showed some Members of Parliament virtually vending the privilege of raising questions in the House or spending on development were a rude reminder that accountability was not really round the corner.
Their expulsions notwithstanding, the ‘exposed’ MPs are knocking on the doors of courts for justice.
It refreshes memories of one of the most controversial Supreme Court judgements that the Indian Constitution gives MPs taking bribes an immunity from prosecution ”if they have actually spoken or voted in the House pursuant to the bribe taken by them.”
That judgement allowed the acquittal of four Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs who had voted for the Narasimha Rao Government 12 years ago in return for bribes.
Then Law Commission Chairman B P Jeevan Reddy suggested making bribe-taking legislators liable for prosecution.
”Nothing… should bar the prosecution of a Member of Parliament under the Prevention of Corruption Act… if they take money for voting in Parliament.”
Asked about it eleven years later at a news conference in January 2005, the Law Minister acknowledged that steps were yet to be taken to preclude such interpretation– as, indeed, they yet are.
Lokpal to check corruption in public offices itself was conceived four decades ago but is still nowhere in sight. Tired of waiting, activists have announced a People’s Lokpal.
Efforts on Lokpal or to strengthen the law to discipline errant senior judges remain under way.
By proclaiming 2005 as the Year of Excellence in Judiciary and pronouncing the institution ‘clean’– close on the heels of allegedly scandalous behaviour involving some senior judges– then Chief Justice of India Ramesh Chandra Lahoti helped underscore accountability as well as transparency.
Bhardwaj insists that any disciplinary action against senior judges be taken only by their peers and to that end the Judges’ Inquiry Act 1968 needs strengthening.
The Act provides to impeach an errant judge– a step rendered ineffective due to partisan politics the only time it was invoked against Supreme Court Judge V Ramaswamy who had been dubbed ”guilty of wilful and gross misuses of office…”
Authorities have no other way to effectively discipline senior Judges. An in-house mechanism has been adopted in absence of any legislative provisions. But experts say such a mechanism suffers from opacity and uncertainty.
Three years ago, within hours of taking office as CJI, Justice Gopal Ballav Pattanaik stressed in a television interview more powers to tackle corruption in judiciary.
Just a week before, his predecessor, Justice Bhupinder Nath Kirpal had called for ”robust safeguards” to minimise fears of corruption and incompetence in a judiciary appointing itself.
He said, ”the members of the judiciary are also Indian citizens who come from the same aggregate as those in the legislature and the administration, and therefore, there are also instances where corruption and incompetence have also pervaded the judicial establishment that cannot be denied.”
In December 2001, then CJI, Justice Sam Piroj Bharucha told a lawyers’ group in Kerala that ”more than 80 per cent of the Judges in this country, across the board, are honest and incorruptible.
”It is that smaller percentage that brings the entire judiciary into disrepute. To make it known that the judiciary does not tolerate corruption in its ranks, it is requisite that corrupt Judges should be investigated and dismissed from service.”
In December 1989, on the eve of retiring as CJI, Justice E S Venkataramaiah told an interviewer that ”judiciary in India has deteriorated in standards because some of the judges are willing to be influenced by lavish parties and whisky bottles.”
However, concern and disquiet voiced over the years has yet to produce a remedy.
The Law Minister suggests ‘formalising’ the in-house mechanism– leaving the task of ensuring accountability still with judges but making clear provisions for punitive measures such as suspension or resignation of errant judges.
With that in mind, India’s Central and State Law Ministers met at Simla in June 2005 and decided to set up a National Judicial Council to ensure judicial accountability.
Such measures may not find favour with some judges.
On the other hand, legislators and the executive– not to mention the judiciary– owe the citizens a transparent and accountable system of justice.
In a broader context, accountability was emphasised by Justice Yogesh Kumar Sabharwal seven months before he became the 36th CJI.
Speaking at the launch of a legal literacy mission by Prime Minister Singh, Justice Sabharwal said, ”We need to set examples of accountability in our governance.”
Three months ago, the Law Commission received a reference on the Judges’ Inquiry Act. This month, the Commission submitted to the Law Minister ”a comprehensive study” on ”the procedure for removal of the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.”
As it is, on one hand, judges cannot be disciplined unless their peers so choose– on the other they cannot be criticised without risking six months in jail under the court’s contempt power.
A long-awaited reform has been to allow truth as a defence against the contempt power which ends up silencing, at least discouraging, even fair, healthy and well-meaning criticism.
Last February, a Bill to ”further liberalise the scope to permit a defence of justification by truth on satisfaction as to bona fides of the plea and it being in public interest” was introduced in the Lok Sabha.
Just two days before the year ended did the Manmohan Singh Cabinet approve a ”proposal to proceed further in Parliament (on) the Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Bill 2004.”
An even more basic issue is judges’ strength. Not only it is known to be lower in India than elsewhere, it is further undermined by many vacancies and possible quality issues. Delayed judicial appointments contribute to delayed justice, even though authorities know years before vacancies arise and can set up a pool from which judges are assigned without delay.
So far as making lawyers accountable to litigants is concerned, the Advocate’s Act remains where it was.
Apart from complaints of incompetence, inefficiency and indifference, ethical issues are a major concern in the legal profession.
Lawyers who should look out for clients’ interests, are at times known to mislead them– treating cases as milch cows prolonged through adjournments for years– or even colluding with clients’ opponents.
Victims can complain to statutory Bar Councils. But the Councils are not always prompt in responding, nor can they help litigants recover any losses caused due to members’ misconduct.
One practical remedy might be for courts to keep for litigants’ reference a lawyers’ roster along with any record of complaints of misconduct against each– whether resolved or pending.
As it is, the authorities have not even dusted Law Commission findings since protesting lawyers clashed with police on Parliament Street a few years ago.
Here is an undergraduate textbook extract on the reality of Equality Before Law in actual practice during the erstwhile British rule:
”The principle of equality before law was violated when laws became complicated and beyond the grasp of uneducated poor masses.
They had to engage lawyers who charged excessive fees and preferred to work for the rich. In addition, the prevalence of corruption in the administrative machinery and the police worked against the rights of the masses.”
More than 57 years after the British quit India, the call to simplify the language of laws of the land was given by Prime Minister Singh at the launch of the country’s first nationwide legal literacy mission in March 2005.
”The complex legal language of our statutes acts as a hurdle to legal literacy… compounded by the intricacies of legal language in judicial pronouncements,” Dr Singh told law professionals.
”An attempt should be made to simplify the language of the law so that any one who reads judgements and laws can easily understand their true meaning.”
In November, the cold-blooded killing of Indian Oil Corporation officer Manjunath Shanmugam, who blew the whistle on corrupt petrol outlets, underscored once again the crying need in India for law to protect whistleblowers– insiders who expose corrupt or abusive organisations or employers.
Such laws have existed in and served other advanced societies for decades.
In India, a study was made by the Law Commission and a Draft Bill put together and placed in Parliament more than three years ago.
It was before the MPs when National Highway Authority officer Satyendra Dubey lost his life in November 2003, not to mention when Shanmugam lost his– two years later.
As it is, critics say, officials who appear to find protection in Indian jurisprudence are the sort who acquiesce in or connive at violations.
In case after case– whether petrol pump distribution scam, St Kitts affair, Hawala scam, Bofors scandal or many more– bureaucrat after bureaucrat and politician after politician has found acquittal or escape.
It is dramatically exemplified in manifestations of justice that hit consumers of New Delhi’s municipal and housing services this winter.
Law abiding citizens hailed the drive ordered by the Delhi High Court, urging impartiality and wondering whether– and why– law spared pre-2000 violations or officials on whose watch violations took shape.
Published accounts say three-fourths– perhaps more– of the Capital’s 36,00,000 buildings are illegal. Yet municipal authorities have taken note of only 200,000 of them and acted against barely a thousand.
The ongoing drive targets a mere 18,299 cases detected since 2000.
The court also has ordered the city to ”fix responsibility” and initiate major penalty against engineers and officials ”who allowed or took no notice” of such constructions.
If punitive action has been taken, it has not been made public.
Critics say city bulldozers have been ‘discrete,’ steering wide clear of homes of India’s bigwigs or affluent– entire unauthorised neighbourhoods or localities !
Critics advocate punishing officials who let violations occur and such agencies as the Delhi Development Authority whose policies or actions– why lottery ? for instance– have encouraged and stoked speculation in housing.
They say it all reflects the state of rule of law in India.
Here are some more reflections of it:
— Hundreds of thousands of undertrials have been in custody– many for years, even longer than their convictions might have required them to spend in jail. Why legal attention remains denied is not clear given huge sums spent year after year on legal aid for needy. Former Law Minister Jana Krishnamurthi saw it as a serious flaw that must not be allowed.
— An Indian Society of International Law inaugurated in August 1959 by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru might have been a guiding force, helping inform and shape public opinion on global law. In 2005, it was sued by its Treasurer over violations of domestic norms.
— The Bar Council of India disclosed two years ago that 131 high court judges– one in four– across India have kin practising in the same court– an arrangement or coincidence forbidden under the law for fear of promoting unfairness in justice. The Council campaigned for transfer of 131 HC judges– in vain.
— But 2005 saw a High Court Chief Justice transferred twice in seven months, each time reportedly on brother judges’ complaints. In February, Justice B K Roy was transferred to Gauhati HC after he had asked some Punjab and Haryana HC judges why they took complimentary membership of an exclusive club, and in September, to the Sikkim HC, after he tried to improve access to justice in the Northeast by assigning Judges to benches in states neighbouring Assam.
— Despite scam after sordid scam sapping public interest, legislators have neither enacted Lokpal nor discarded it as a bad idea unfit for Indian society in the 40 years since it was recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission set up under Morarji Desai in 1966.
— In November 1996, the Supreme Court found that former Petroleum Minister Satish Sharma favoured 15 petrol pump allottees and fined him Rs 50,00,000. Another Bench overruled this in August 1999. Two years later, an expert group led by Justice Reddy reviewed both orders and said it was ”absolutely essential” and ”urgent” to enact a law making public servants liable– with exemplary damages– for loss caused to the State by their mala fide actions. Last April, the Central Bureau of Investigation explained its failure to file chargesheet in the 15 cases citing a government decision ”not to grant sanction” to prosecute Sharma.
— In 30 years, the Lalit Narain Mishra murder case has been transferred to nine judges, and of seven accused, the statement of only two recorded. A Parliamentary report dubs it ”a classic case” which ”epitomises the lethargic pace at which the Indian legal system operates.”
”We must realise,” Justice Sabharwal said in his Law Day speech in November ”that the end of law must be justice. Law and justice cannot afford to remain distant neighbours. There must be harmony between law and justice.
”We must, in all seriousness, ask ourselves… how far we have been able to fulfil the mission of law to deliver justice and to what extent we have succeeded in using law as a vehicle for ensuring social justice to the large masses of people in the country.”
Experts concede that not just justice, legislation– the process of enacting laws of the land– also suffers from delays.
They say the terribly slow pace of legislating reforms is as constricting and agonising to the society as delay in adjudication is to an individual victim.
In India, the process also suffers from near absence of public participation in so-called public debate– often confined to hearing select speakers in one forum or another with hardly any audience input.
Those are just some of the serious questions that need to be faced. ”It is also perhaps a most ignored aspect of public interest issues by Indian research and scholarship,” a Delhi University Law teacher acknowledges.
Experts concede what is needed is a thorough but quick audit or study of legislative function– to see how it can be made effective in dealing with the needs of transparency, accountability and law in the society.
UNI MJ PK GC1148

Insure Indian Lawyers Against Clients’ Claims : New Law Mag – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                                           September 26, 2007

Insure Indian Lawyers Against Clients’ Claims: New Law Mag

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Professional negligence insurance for lawyers and other such issues are highlighted in a new legal magazine, Halsbury’s Law Monthly, unveiled by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan last evening.

When an advocate fails to provide competent services to his or her client (Photo: ethics-lawyer.com)

Insurance is intended to discourage practices and ways that hurt clients’ interests without much of a hope for them to recover losses, unless they have the stomach for protracted litigation– against their lawyer.

A Monthly piece stresses making professional negligence insurance mandatory in India, pointing out that it will make lawyers more vigilant and protect the clients’ interests.

Such measure can insure lawyers against claims for damages from clients who think the service received was not worth the fee given.

Speaking after unveiling a large-sized display of the magazine cover, Justice Balakrishnan spoke highly of the authoritative and reliable output of LexisNexis group which includes Butterworths, one of the largest legal publishers with over 180 years of history.

He said the publications were known for bringing out material which was a good source of reference professionals would like to possess and hoped the new magazine would live up to the publisher’s reputation.

”I hope the Monthly will maintain the high standards of Halsbury’s,” Justice Balakrishnan said.

LexisNexis’s Asia managing director John Atkinson told participants that the new venture would focus on such up and coming areas as outsourcing, retail, corporate and cyber laws and intellectual property.

The new publication is the publisher’s first in collaboration with Cybermedia, which already puts out nearly a dozen magazines.

LexisNexis also publish Halsbury’s Laws, The Malayan Law Journal, Mallal’s Digest, Laws of Malaysia, Hong Kong Cases and CaseBase.

Aalok Wadhwa, its managing director for India, said the magazine would orient readers to the growing potential of the corporate legal world in the current socio-economic environment.

In remarks afterwards, Atkinson told UNI that the group’s publications and efforts aim at promoting transparency and efficiency in legal affairs.

He cited how LexisNexis has implemented electronic-filing and electronic-service projects in some parts of the world, such as Colorado and Delaware.

”And it works. We’d certainly like to offer it in India.” Such efforts benefit not just courts, but also law firms by giving them prompt access to data, he said.

Asked whether the Monthly will focus on problems of access to justice or of corruption, Atkinson said initially the magazine expected to focus on such areas as the corporate law, which is a growing entity.

As for what he dubbed ”underlying problems,” he said the magazine has an editorial Board, mostly made up of lawyers, which will take such decisions.

Asked how the Butterworths have been roping in Judges to write for them, Atkinson said it was done as anywhere in the world, by first identifying a subject and then finding out who has the specific experience in that field of law and ask them.

A book assignment usually takes a couple of years to complete, and writers are only paid royalty from sales, he said.

UNI MJ

CJI Against ‘Undue’ Haste In Dispensing Justice – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                    July 28, 2006

CJI Against ‘Undue’ Haste In Dispensing Justice*

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – India’s Chief Justice has advocated more judges, more courtrooms and double shift courts, but cautioned against ”undue haste” in dispensing ”justice.”

   Delivering Justice Sobhag Mal Jain Memorial Lecture on Delayed Justice on Tuesday, Justice Y K Sabharwal acknowledged delays and aging backlogs.

The tone was set by Himachal Pradesh Governor V S Kokje who was emphatic that ”delay defeats justice.”
A former Judge, Governor Kokje cited the near absence of adequate compensation to victims and wondered if it’s ”justice at all.”
Many a times, he said, a winner is really a loser considering the costs and years spent in courts.
Supreme Court Bar Association President M N Krishnamani, in introductory remarks, criticised outright dismissal of a bulk of matters filed before the apex Court, calling it just ”quantitative” justice.
A Senior Advocate, Krishnamani also criticised long adjournments, pointing out that it made little sense to adjourn a matter for a year because someone is a bit indisposed.
Such practices contribute to delays, he said.
Justice Sabharwal acknowledged Courts’ obligation to deliver ‘prompt and inexpensive’ justice to those who suffer physically, mentally or economically and seek redress without taking law into their own hands.
He recounted judges’ role in enlarging and enforcing human rights and handling Public Interest Litigation, saying it brought courts ”closer to the oppressed and weaker sections of the society.”
But he said Indian Courts ”held in high esteem” around the world, faced ”growing criticism” at home– sometimes uninformed or ill-informed.
”There is growing criticism, sometimes from uninformed or ill-informed quarters about the inability of our Courts to effectively deal with and wipe out the huge backlog of cases.”
He said delay in dispensing justice ”is a major problem being faced by Indian Judicial system.”
He acknowledged how process-induced delays result in miscarriage of justice.
”Long delay,” Justice Sabharwal said, ”has also the effect of defeating justice in quite a number of cases. As a result of such delay, the possibility cannot be ruled out of loss of important evidence, because of fading of memory or death of witnesses.
”The consequences thus would be that a party with even a strong case may lose it, not because of any fault of its own, but because of the tardy judicial process, entailing disillusionment to all those who at one time, set high hopes in courts.”
He said delay in disposing of cases affected not only ordinary cases but even those which by their very nature, call for early relief.
”The problem of delay and huge arrears stares us all and unless we can do something about it, the whole system would get crushed under its weight,” Justice Sabharwal said.
At the same time, he said, ”we must guard against the system getting discredited and people losing faith in it and taking recourse to extra legal remedies with all the sinister potentialities.
”Many times such inordinate delay contributes to acquittal of guilty persons either because the evidence is lost or because of lapse of time, or the witnesses do not remember all the details or the witnesses do not come forward to give true evidence due to threats, inducement or sympathy.
”Whatever may be the reason, it is justice that becomes a casualty.”
Experts have long voiced concern over poor conviction rate– 6.5 per cent– in heinous crimes as a factor that encourages criminal behaviour rather than deter it.
Justice Sabharwal told audience that India’s international trade and other commitments made it ”necessary to have an efficient and effective justice delivery system at affordable costs.”
But, he said, courts have no magic wand to wipe out the huge pendency of cases nor can they ignore injustices and illegalities.
”If the courts start doing that, it would be endangering the credibility of the Courts and the tremendous confidence they still enjoy from the common man.”
He said volumes of Law Commission recommendations and expert reports have not enabled the system to bridge the gap between institution and disposal of cases or even make a dent in the mountain of arrears.
The inadequacy of research on Indian legal and judicial system was also criticised by Governor Kokje who said he was trying to help remedy it in Himachal institutions.
Presumably alluding to Law Commission suggestions to quintuple the number of Judges, he pointed to judicial vacancies and said if finding ten judges is difficult where would one find fifty.
Among steps Justice Sabharwal stressed were filling high court vacancies, setting up more courts, holding courts in two shifts, managing caseloads, giving judiciary financial autonomy, settling disputes through mediation and other ways and plea bargaining.
Justice Sabharwal suggested making it a practice to estimate additional facilities needed to adjudicate rights and offences new laws create– as Americans do.
He also suggested using computers, Internet and video conferencing, sharpening judges’ adjudicatory skills through training, curbing frivolous government litigation, framing rules for easier service of summons and making adjournments cost.
For instance, the sanctioned strength of High Court Judges is 726, and the actual strength 588, leaving 138 vacancies. The sanctioned strength of subordinate judges is 14,582 and the working strength– on April 30, 2006– 11,723, implying 2,860 vacancies.
He made it clear that the backlog ”cannot be wiped out without” hiring more judges, particularly when the institution of cases is likely to increase, not come down, in coming years.
”We will have more litigation in future when those sections of the society, who have remained oppressed and unaware of their legal rights, become more aware of their rights due to spread of legal literacy, and increased awareness equipped by effective legal aid and advice.”
”While laying stress on the urgent need of elimination of delay and reduction of backlogs, we cannot afford to act in undue haste so as to substitute one evil for another one.
”Stress on speed alone at the cost of substantial justice may impair the faith and confidence of the people in the system and cause greater harm than the one caused by delay in disposal of cases.”
His message: the quality of justice must not suffer on account of quantity.
UNI MJ

Think About It But Don’t Ask Questions… – By Mukesh Jhangiani

March 11, 2007

Think About It But Don’t Ask Questions…*

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Asserting that judicial corruption is existent– albeit ”not rampant”– justice experts have stressed reforming the way judges are appointed and disciplined.

But discussing Appointment and Removal of a Judge of the Supreme Court, panelists acknowledged last week that such reforms might be struck down by the courts as offending the basic structure doctrine.
That doctrine is an offshoot of a Supreme Court ruling of April 24, 1973 that Parliament cannot amend India’s Constitution insofar as its ”basic structutre” is concerned.
The panelists who included former Chief Justice of India J S Verma and former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sachar went over changes the government proposes to make in law.
The other panelists: former Attorney General Soli Jehangir Sorabjee, senior advocates K K Venugopal and A K Ganguly and journalist Harish Khare.
The Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2006 now before Parliament seeks to establish a National Judicial Council to look into allegations of misbehaviour or incapacity of the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts; regulate the procedure for such investigation, inquiry and proof; and provide for minor disciplinary measures.
Key changes allow complaints against errant judges– to be rejected or processed by a judges forum– resulting in either minor measures or removal.
Reform is also intended to introduce transparency in judges’ appointments, a process mired at present in opacity.
Over the past few weeks, for instance, President A P J Abdul Kalam has raised queries on two senior judges’ appointments– reflecting incongruities in the process at work.
”There is an urgent need of a legislation for establishing a National Judicial Council,” Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj has noted in the Objects and Reasons of the Bill.
The Minister said the Council would look into ”allegations of misbehaviour or incapacity of a Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court…”
He said it was based on judicial independence, a fundamental of the Constitution inseparable from judicial accountability.
Initiating the discussion, Sorabjee said ”There is judicial corruption,” but ”not rampant.”
Sorabjee wondered how former CJI S P Bharucha arrived at a figure of 20 per cent judges being corrupt– an estimate some of his successors have tended to discount.
Some three years ago the Bar Council of India, the statutory body of the nation’s million or so lawyers, demanded transfer of 130 judges– nearly a fifth of incumbents– from High Courts where their kin practise.
The practice is among don’ts spelt out under the BCI Rules of Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette.
Critics say by most standards any sort of misconduct by a learned Judge should be unimaginable.
They cite a Delhi HC Additional Judge whose resignation brought to the fore allegations that he availed himself of indecent hospitality while the host wrote a ‘judicial’ order in his name in an adjacent room.
Critics say that since a Supreme Court judgement in 1993, the onus of appointing Judges is on the judiciary, but no responsibility is fixed for lapses by selectors.
Justice Verma spoke of a perception that what the executive did when it controlled the hiring process is now done by the judiciary, although there may be a difference of degree.
He said given a provision for complaint, a Chief Justice seeking a Judge’s explanation need no longer face the counter-question: ‘Who are you ?’
But he questioned so-called minor measures, pointing out the untenability of public reprimand of a judge. After that ”how do you expect a Judge to function.”
Justice Verma was against excluding the CJI from the purview of the proposed legislation. ”I don’t think it’s advisable. The CJI must not be excluded.”
The CJI, he said, is essentially no different from other Judges but such exclusion may send out a signal to the contrary.
Most speakers opposed a limitation proviso in the Bill which seeks to disallow complaints arisen before the enactment.
Justice Verma emphasised that ”Your past should have nothing to hide.”
Hailing the complaint provision, Venugopal said once a show cause goes out to a Judge, all other Judges would ”sit back and take notice”.
He said the very fact of notice would have a salutary effect on Judges, but Sorabjee did not appear to think so.
Venugopal acknowledged the probability that the reform might not go far. ”It may be struck down.” Khare stressed that the judiciary set its house in order.
Sachar said there was ”no need for appeal” provided in the proposed draft against a disciplinary decision taken after an elaborate procedure.
Ganguly questioned long gaps in appointing Judges. He said at times senior advocates sounded for judgeship did not hear about it again for years.
Ganguly suggested letting the Prime Minister preside over the group that selects Judges, but the idea was considered inappropriate by another panelist as the Prime Minister is head of the government which is often a litigant.
Concluding the discussion, the panelists told the mostly lawyer audience to ”think about” the issues– but allowed no questions.
An advocate who sat through the discussion said afterwards the key problem with the system was appointments made from a close circle of professionals– what he dubbed ”judicial inbreeding”.
Ravi Mohan acknowledged in reply to a question that his assertion was not based on an academic or administrative study but his empirical experience.
The remedy: make the system transparent, he said, adding that all consideration in respect of an appointment from the first step– inviting biodata– onward must be public knowledge.
”It’s well known that no disinfectant works better than sunlight through an open window.”
UNI MJ HS MIR KP1152

Think About It But Don’t Ask Questions…* – By Mukesh Jhangiani – March 11, 2007