Tag Archive | Law and Justice Minister

Drawing Line Between Trial And Punishment ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                          March 25, 2011

M. Veerappa Moila

M. Veerappa Moily (Photo: Nestlé)

Drawing Line Between Trial And Punishment !

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – More than 300,000 under-trials were let out of custody after a special drive begun early last year but with new arrivals daily the number in prisons remains almost what it was– more than 200,000.

”Imagine the plight in absence of such an effort,” was how a senior government official responded when asked about the impact of the special drive, which, he pointed out, has been extended.

Article 21 of the Constitution lays down that ”No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

A statistic to bear in mind: roughly two out of every three prisoners in India are under-trials– only one is a convict serving sentence.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

Guilty or Innocent (Photo: publik16)

That, critics say, is a telling reflection of a justice system ostensibly committed to treating an accused as innocent until proven guilty.

For instance, 162 of 543 Members elected to Parliament in 2009 faced criminal charges as against 128 in 2004. Correspondingly, 76 and 58 of them faced serious charges.

Of 813 legislative assembly members in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, which go to the polls next month, 204 faced criminal charges, 83 of them serious charges.

Serious crime cases include those involving murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, robbery and extortion.

The special drive was an initiative by Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily to decongest prisons.

”We want to dispose of as many as two-thirds of the under-trial cases by July 31,” Dr Moily told journalists on Republic Day eve 14 months ago. ”The mission begins January 26.”

The exercise involved expediting legal process for some 200,000 under-trials as part of a National Mission for Delivery of Justice and Legal Reforms.

In a jurisprudence known to let even those accused of serious crimes get bail or get elected to legislatures, many under-trials are believed to spend longer in jail than their alleged petty crimes warrant.

By law anyone arrested has a right to be informed of any charges he or she faces, consult a lawyer of his or her choice and to be produced before the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.

Lawyers say that without legal aid, those who cannot afford bail inevitably suffer prolonged incarceration during the pendency of investigation by police and trial by a court.

Experts say they languish simply because they are illiterate, do not know their rights or charges they face, and cannot afford lawyers– although Rs 50 crores is spent annually on legal aid.

According to a National Human Rights Commission consultant, India’s prison capacity in December 2008 was 293,144 inmates, against which 386,791 inmates were actually in prison– 264,502 of them under-trials and 122,289, convicts.

While authorities have been acquiescing in the miscarriage of justice, the victims’ plight has, from time to time, evoked concern at home and abroad with critics assailing India’s tortuously slow courts.

India is bound by several international human rights conventions and for decades the government as well as courts have been aware of the violations.

An early official reference to the plight of under-trial prisoners came in the findings of K F Rustamji, a National Police Commission member, 32 years ago.

He saw under-trials as ”dumb, simple persons, caught in the web of the law, unable to comprehend as to what has happened, what the charge against them is, or why they have been sent to jail,” and prisons as a system ”slowly grinding thousands of people into dust.”

Indeed, the first public interest litigation– Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State Of Bihar… 1979– brought to light how undertrial prisoners had been in jail longer than if they had been charged, tried, convicted and given maximum punishment.

Supreme Court lawyers recall a September 1977 judgement by Justice V R Krishna Iyer who held that ”the basic rule may perhaps be tersely put as bail, not jail.”

Among exceptions he spelt out ”are circumstances suggestive of fleeing from justice or thwarting the course of justice or creating other troubles in the shape of repeating offences or intimidating witnesses and the like.”

”It made clear that incarceration in the name of judicial custody and protracted or delayed trial is itself criminal as it hits at the very base of Article 21,” says advocate Ravi Prakash Gupta.

Eight years ago, National Democratic Alliance Law Minister Jana Krishnamurthy drew attention to the plight of more than 200,000 under-trials.

”It’s a shame,” he said, that in independent India men and women have to await their day in court for over ten years.

The yearly cost to public exchequer for under-trials upkeep was then estimated at Rs 4.6 crore.

Although under-trials’ guilt is yet to be proven, they remain in prison almost indefinitely.

Experts say unlike convicts, found guilty, they are not even entitled to such basics as uniforms, literacy lessons or work.

NHRC consultant Lakshmidhar Mishra says children and juveniles are worse off inasmuch as they are put up in regular jails with hardened criminals contrary to law for lodging them in police lockups or observation homes, which are neither adequate in number nor adequately equipped.

There was no let-up until about a year ago, when a move to cut two thirds of under-trial cases was announced by Dr Moily of the United Progressive Alliance.

Addressing lawyers on November 26, 2009, marked as Law Day, the Minister regretted the justice system’s failure to give every citizen equal protection of law.

”A necessary corollary to the guarantee of the rule of law is Article 14 of the Constitution,” Dr Moily reminded.

Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

”Unfortunately,” he admitted that ”justice delivery system in its working in India has not been able to guarantee this protection to every citizen– man, woman and child.”

The government asked High Courts to identify under-trials not involved in heinous crimes or preventive detention so that their cases may be put on a fast track to expedite pressing cases.

The Indian Constitution guarantees speedy trial. But the commodity is routinely in short supply, with litigation often taking years, even decades.

Indian courts have close to 31 million cases pending, a factor that discourages justice seekers at home, investors from abroad, and has even judges advocating alternative ways of resolving disputes.

Hope may be hard to entertain given hundreds of High Court judgeships and thousands of lower judicial posts perennially vacant and inconsistent sentencing practices across India undermining the deterrent value of law.

Government figures show that there were 213,739 under-trials in prison as the drive got underway.

Over the next six months or so, only 43,504 were convicted and 50,282 discharged.

As many as 309,728 under-trials were released after having been kept in jails for unspecified periods.

About the same time, 399,115 new under-trials arrived in prisons across India, to wait for their day in the court.

Government data indicate that of 612,854 under-trials in prison for unspecified periods– ranging from a day to possibly several years– merely 7.09 per cent were actually convicted in those six months or so.

The figures made available do not, for instance, specify how long individuals spent in jail on what sort of charges before they were convicted, discharged or released.

Nor has there been a mention of compensating any who might have been jailed or held without basis.

Any compensation awarded by human rights or other authorities is discretionary, depending on how a given judge feels at the moment– hardly fair.

No compensation is mandated by the Indian Constitution or statutes for wrongful confinement.

In a telephone interview with United News of India special correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani, Dr Mishra called it ”a significant omission,” and agreed that a remedial legislation is needed.

But given the pace of legislation in India, remedies are neither swift nor easy.

The figures indicating that the number of under-trials in prison at the end of the drive was 212,454– just 1,285 less than at the outset– do not necessarily reflect a nationwide trend.

In 16 out of 27 States or Union territories for which the Justice Department has received figures, the numbers actually went up.

West Bengal led in this increase with 14,238 under-trials put into prisons while 9,337 were released, an increase of 4,901 under-trials in prison.

It was followed by Orissa, with an increase of 4,305, Rajasthan, 3071, Haryana, 1,737, Jharkhand, 1,726, Bihar, 1,550, Chhattisgarh, 1,516, Gujarat, 1,086, and Assam, 1,000.

Smaller increases were reported by Andhra Pradesh, 678, Punjab, 677, Kerala, 652, Manipur, 238, Tripura, 118, Himachal Pradesh, 107, Goa, 106, Nagaland, 69, and Arunachal Pradesh, 47.

One State which reported the highest decline was Uttar Pradesh which released 77,205 under-trials while putting in jail 55,287, an actual decrease of 21,918.

It was followed by Madhya Pradesh, where the number of under-trials in prison declined by 748, Karnataka, 643, Uttarakhand, 569, New Delhi, 356, Maharashtra, 257, Mizoram, 156, Meghalaya, 112, Sikkim, 58, Chandigarh, 11, and Daman and Diu, 1.

The Department had no figures immediately from Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep and Puducherry.

The programme originally scheduled to end on July 31, ”is continuing,” Dr Moily told journalists a few weeks ago.

From citizens’ perspective locking up innocent, law-abiding individuals is as undesirable and indeed repugnant as letting crooks and lawbreakers roam free or shape laws or societies.

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Cutting 2/3rd Undertrial Cases By Mid-2010 – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                     November 26, 2009

English: SVG version of the coat of arms of th...

CIArb Coat of arms (Photo: Wikipedia)

Cutting 2/3rd Undertrial Cases By Mid-2010

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – A move to cut two thirds of undertrial cases by the middle of next year was announced by Law and Justice Minister M Veerappa Moily today.

The announcement may mean freedom for many of 170,000 Indians in jail for periods longer than entailed by petty offences they are alleged to have committed.

The plight of such undertrials has evoked concern for years, without much remedy at hand given the painfully slow system of justice at work.
Dr Moily spoke about the plan at two separate events in the Capital, one marking the National Law Day and another opening an India Chapter of a United Kingdom-based arbitration institute._
Addressing the Bar Council of India, a statutory body of a million lawyers across the nation, Dr Moily regretted the Justice system’s failure to give every citizen equal protection of law.
Advocates celebrating the day were reminded that ”a necessary corollary to the guarantee of the rule of law is Article 14 of the Constitution.”
The Article says: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
”Unfortunately, Justice delivery system in its working in India has not been able to guarantee this protection to every citizen– man, woman and child,” Dr Moily noted.
Dr Moily estimated the number of undertrials in prisons in India at more than 300,000– 70 per cent of the jail population, which means only 30 per cent inmates are serving sentences after conviction.
Roughly 200,000 inmates have been in jail for several years, essentially because of delays in the justice delivery system, officials say.
The second event was the opening of the India chapter of the London-based Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) for ”faster resolution of pending court cases.”
Declaring the Chapter open, CIArb Director General Michael Forbes Smith stressed ”assured level of training and experience” and maintaining the highest standards of professional conduct in the practice of private dispute resolution.”
The 94-year old Institute with 11,000 members across more than 100 countries is a ”not for profit, UK registered charity working in the public interest through an international network of 31 Branches and Chapters.
Indian courts have close to 31 million cases pending, a factor many litigants find discouraging, as indeed do many businesses contemplating to invest in India owing among other things to a promise of cheaper labour.
Indian Arbitration yet to pick up Arbitration is an alternative way to settle disputes, but despite ripe grounds– court delays and huge arrears– it has yet to pick up in India.
A good many arbitral awards are known to have ended up in courts again, rendering the alternative not much of one.
Investors are often known to decline a resort to Indian rbitration.
As one of the speakers at the opening pointed out, arbitration in India does not appear to have emerged as a cost-effective and speedier alternative to courts.
Retired Chief Justice of India J S Verma told audience it’s ”quite disturbing” to know the fees of some professionals, as indeed how much richer, more affluent some judges are ”post-retirement.”
Justice Verma, introduced as one of the few Judges who accepted no post-retirement office of profit, stressed that arbitration was not intended to make ”us richer after we retire… The mindset has to improve.”
Asked how arbitrators who violate ethics are dealt with, the CIArb Director General told United News of India Special Correspondent Mukesh Jhangiani that a conduct panel goes over complaints.
Depending on merit, a case may be referred to a disciplinary tribunal and possibly result in debarment, Smith said. But he could not immediately recall such instances.
He said complaints are sometimes made by disappointed parties seeking to appeal the arbitrator’s award by means of a personal attack on the ability or competence of an arbitrator.
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Jana To Industry: Change Must Promote National Interests – By Mukesh Jhangiani

Portrait of Jana Krishnamurthi

K Jana Krishnamurthi (Photo: Wikipedia)

                                                                                                             September 6, 2002

Jana To Industry: Change Must Promote National Interests

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – Industry Representatives seeking an overhaul of labour and other laws were impressed upon by Law and Justice Minister K Jana Krishnamurthi today that ”the change must not only benefit you, but also promote the national interests.”

Opening a conference on legal reforms sponsored by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Bar Association of India, Mr Krishnamurthi told the hosts his Government ”will welcome any suggestions from you for any change in law.”

But the Minister underscored that ”one factor which has to be kept in mind is that while recommending a change in provisions of law governing the field which FICCI represents… a ground rule must be observed– the change must not only benefit you, but also promote the national interests.”

A discussion paper prepared for the ‘National Conference on Legal and Judicial Reforms– the Bird’s Eyeview on Balancesheet and Projections’ argued for scrapping the Essential Commodities Act, overhauling labour laws and spelling out ”as early as possible” an exit policy– a euphemism for provisions for industry to fire employees it no longer considers needed.

The paper also questioned the practice of the nation’s biggest litigant– the Government– just ”sitting pretty” when it came to implementing judgements or simply filing appeals.

Mr Krishnamurthi dwelt at length on the ancient concept of Dharma which sets individuals in a range of groupings such as family, community, region, period, profession, nation, universe and so on.

”All these are arranged in such a way that one does not come in conflict with the other, but each is in harmony with the other. If there is a conflict, then a wider Dharma takes precedence,” he said.

The Law and Justice Minister stressed that ”the modern law must also a take a cue from this ancient concept of ours.”

He acknowledged that industry, commerce and trade must have their own laws to promote growth of these sectors, but cautioned that ”care will have to be taken to see that these laws, which promote the interests and advancement of these groups, do not come in conflict with the laws intended for promotion of good and advancement of other groups in the society or the society as a whole.”

He made it clear that ”group interest must yield to the interest of the nation as a whole.”

Thanking the Minister for his remarks, FICCI President Rajendra S Lodha said the tone for the Federation’s functioning was set by Mahatma Gandhi some seven decades ago in terms of the concept of trusteeship, from which the organisation had not deviated ”too much.”

Earlier, Krishnamurthi spoke of applying information technology in courts to substantively solve the problem of as many as 24 million pending cases in various subordinate and higher courts across India.

He emphasised designing a judicial database which would facilitate this process by providing such data as the number of cases filed daily under criminal or civil heads, the section of the Act under which cause of action is invoked or advocates appearing for the parties.

He said non-utilisation of judges who retire after the age of 60 or 62 years was a colossal waste, especially when there are some 1800 vacancies in subordinate courts for want of suitable candidates and suggested involving them in arbitration sort of alternative mechanisms of resolving disputes.

He also underscored the need for a National Judicial Commission empowered for selecting judges of High Courts and Supreme Court.

The Minister told participants about Fast Track Courts aimed at reducing the number of pending criminal cases, especially those relating to undertrials long in prison and said he firmly believed that “any citizen of India should not be deprived of his freedom more than a minute than the law requires.”

Currently, more than 200,000 undertrials languish in custody pending adjudication, costing the exchequer Rs 430 crore annually for maintenance of remand prisoners alone, the conference was told.

Mr Krishnamurthi also spoke of setting up Law Schools along the lines of Indian Institutes of Technology and Management, which have become world famous brand names by virtue of the quality of graduates they have produced over decades.

In his welcome address, Mr Lodha called for new enactments to keep pace with changes in such areas as Taxation Laws, Company Law, Labour Legislation, Standards of Weight and Measures (Packaged Commodities) Rules, 1977.

Mr Lodha suggested consulting the Law Ministry before filing an appeal, taking multi-pronged corrective actions to overcome delays, encouraging entrusting judicial work to administrative or quasi judicial tribunals and referring more cases to arbitration.

Bar Association President F S Nariman stressed need for judges to push cases towards speedy conclusion and suggested setting up Supreme Court benches in various zones and hiring judges who retire at 61 or 62 as ad-hoc judges in the high courts.

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Don’t Tempt Citizen To Take Law Into His Hand: Prez – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                               February 23, 2008

English: President of India

President Pratibha Patil (Photo: Wikipedia)

Don’t Tempt Citizen To Take Law Into His Hand: Prez

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Stressing the need for ”incorruptible justice,” President Pratibha Patil today cautioned against tempting the common man ”to take law into his own hand.”

”We cannot allow a situation where the common man is tempted to take law into his own hand and subscribe to the deviant culture of the lynch mob,” she said inaugurating a conference on Judicial Reforms.
She was emphatic that ”the formal adjudicatory machinery has to reign supreme.”
Noting that India’s judicial administration is not without ”blemishes,” Mrs Patil stressed the need to ”introspect whether our judicial machinery has lived up to” expectations.
She asked her audience, made up mostly of judges and lawyers, not to be ”touchy” and face issues squarely.
”Time has come when we as stakeholders, without being unduly touchy and sensitive to criticism… collectively introspect the causes of the ills of judicial administration and find solutions squarely,” she said.
The event presided over by India’s Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan was addressed among others by Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj and Bar Council of India chairman Gopakumaran Nair.
The two-day conference organised by a Confedration of Indian Bar to discuss the ”disquieting” delay in delivery of justice has more than half of Supreme Court judges listed among speakers.
India’s justice system has in recent years been a focus of much public debate and comment over such concerns as delays, huge backlogs, shortage of judges, unending judicial vacancies and opacity, especially in the area of judicial hiring and accountability.
Alluding presumably to numerous conferences and seminars on reforming the justice system that appear to get nowhere, President Patil remarked: ”We talk incessantly about delays.”
”But now the time has arrived to launch a crusade against the scourge of arrears. Both the Bar and the Bench as equal partners in the administration of justice must address themselves to this problem.”
”Admittedly,” the President went on, ”the realm of judicial administration is not without its own share of inadequacies and blemishes.
”Time has come when we need to seriously introspect whether our judicial machinery has lived up to its expectations of walking the enlightened way by securing complete justice to all and standing out as the beacon of truth, faith and hope.”
Touching on a key issue, Mrs Patil said, ”case disposals are excruciatingly time consuming. This agonising delay has rendered the common man’s knock on the doors of justice a frustrating experience.
The issue of delay in courts has been debated for decades, without much avail. Experts believe lawmakers must take an initiative to sharpen laws and make them truly deterrent.
Mrs Patil called for making legal procedures ”simple, streamlined, rational, easily understandable and commonsensical.”
She reminded members of her erstwhile tribe that lawyers were trustees of justice and ”must set high standards of probity and rectitude.”
On another key area, she said citizens’ access to law ”remains limited due to prohibitive costs of quality legal advice. It is commonplace to hear that law has become the luxury of the rich.
”Legal aid can go a long way in helping the indigents secure justice,” she said adding that the present system ”needs to be improved.”
She reminded that alternative dispute resolution mechanisms need to be encouraged, but ”cannot aspire to substitute the formal courts.”
She said she recently came across the Karnataka High Court’s Bangalore Mediation Centre where 86 mediators had settled more than 1,000 cases in a year, taking an average 131 minutes per case– which ”is worthy of emulation.”
Justice Balakrishnan concurred that Judicial Reforms was a subject ”so much of talked about but too little done.”
Balakrishnan said India had a nationwide network of more than 14,000 courts– about 12,500 judge working strength– dealing with 40 million cases.
He said each judge handled on an average nearly 4,000 cases, which ”is too high as compared to the average load per-Judge in other countries.”
He acknowledged that ”the general impression of the people is that a large number of cases are being delayed and, if any case is filed, it would take years to get a relief.
”This impression about the performance of Indian Judiciary is not fully correct,” Justice Balakrishnan asserted, but went on to acknowledge that some 60 per cent cases were more than a year old.
He said 90 per cent of delayed cases were pending in subordinate courts.
He suggested setting up a national planning and management system for administration of justice and added that the Bhopal-based National Judicial Academy was preparing a case management system to avoid delays.
He also suggested:
— Legislative reform to remove the bottlenecks that adversely affect adjudication;
— Strengthening the Bar;
— Strengthening legal education;
— Legislative reform to strengthen judges’ powers to control judicial processes to ensure just and efficient outcomes in line with international reforms; and
— Satisfactory framework for judicial accountability.
He offered the suggestions as ”broad outlines” to be discussed and designed by competent people.
Justice Balakrishnan also drew attention to a source of overcrowding in courts.
”In a large number of cases pending in Courts, especially in higher Courts, government is one of the parties either as defendant or as appellant.”
He blamed such litigations on lack of proper governmental administration, pointing out that if authorities took impartial decisions, citizens would not normally be driven to litigation.
”Lack of proper and good governance largely contributes to the number of cases in subordinate courts,” Justice Balakrishnan said.
”When it comes to disposal of cases, the delay is disquieting,” Confederation president Pravin Parekh said, citing case arrears now close to 30 million.
He counted 46,926 cases pending in the apex court, 37,00,223 cases pending in high courts and 2,52,85,982 cases pending in district and subordinate courts.
The seminar will be attended by some 1400 delegates, including 14 sitting judges of the apex court, which has a strength of 26.
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UPA Govt Seized Of Law Commission’s 25-Year-Old Idea ! – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                August 18, 2011 

English: Ashoke Kumar Sen at the United Nation...

Ashoke Kumar Sen, former Law and Justice Minister, to whom the Law Commission of India submitted its Report No. 116 on Formation of an All India Judicial Service on November 27, 1986 (Photo: Wikipedia)

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Twenty-five years after experts suggested an All India Judicial Service to draw the best talent to judiciary, the United Progressive Alliance government is seized of the matter, Parliament was informed today.

The government is seized of the matter of creation of an All India Judicial Service under Article 312 of the Constitution, Law and Justice Minister Salman Khurshid said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha.

He was answering Bharatiya Janata Party member from Rajasthan Arjun Ram Meghwal and Indian National Congress member from Haryana Shruti Choudhry who drew attention to a Law Commission recommendation made in 1986.

The two Members wanted to know whether the government intends to introduce the said Service, the timeframe set for its introduction, and, if not, the reasons therefor.

In his reply, Khurshid acknowledged the Commission findings that such a service would also serve as a powerful unifying influence and counteract growing regional tendencies.

He said the process of creating it requires a Resolution to be passed by the Rajya Sabha enabling Parliament to enact necessary laws.

He did not say when that and any subsequent requirements might be carried out.

In reply to another question, Khurshid said the government has examined various options — including National Judicial Commission– to address the issues concerning appointment of Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts.

However, no specific proposal has been finalised, the Minister said.

Over the past many years, selection for appointment of Supreme Court and High Court Judges has been made by a Judges collegium but questions have arisen owing to complaints over conduct and persistent vacancies.

The Rajya Sabha, for instance, took an unprecedented step this afternoon to approve an impeachment motion against Calcutta High Court Judge Soumitra Sen who is accused of having misappropriated funds while he was a lawyer before his elevation.

The motion will next be considered in the Lok Sabha, and, if approved, go to the President, the appointing authority, for the Judge’s removal from office.

The last Parliament was close to impeaching a Judge was in the 1990s when it considered corruption allegations against former Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice V Ramaswami defended by then senior advocate Kapil Sibal.

The move in the Lok Sabha fell through then with Indian National Congress members abstaining, an instance cited ever since by critics as proof that impeachment was not a sound way to ensure accountability.

Khurshid was answering Meghwal and Communist Party of India (Marxist) member from Kerala M B Rajesh and INC member from Lakshadweep Hamdullah Sayeed on steps to improve judical service quality and standards.

The Members asked if the government proposed to introduce a constitutional code of conduct for Judges and a mechanism for periodical assessment of Judges performance.

Khurshid said the UPA government introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha in December 2010 to ensure accountability and transparency in the higher judiciary.

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 incorporates a mechanism for enquiring into complaints against Supreme Court and High Court Judges and makes way for Judges to declare their assets and liabilities, besides setting standards for them to follow, he said.

The Minister gave no timeframe as to its enactment.

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How ‘Functional Felony’ Creeps Into Judiciary : CJI – By Mukesh Jhangiani

                                                                                                                March 14, 2005

CJI R C Lahoti

How ‘Functional Felony’ Creeps Into Judiciary : CJI

By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India

New Delhi (UNI) – Personal visits to Judges’ residences, dinner invitations from lawyers and political pressures are some of ways in which ”functional felony creeps into the judiciary,” India’s Chief Justice has cautioned.

As a counter, Justice Ramesh Chandra Lahoti has stressed such time-tested judicial ethics as independence, impartiality, integrity and propriety.

Justice Lahoti was delivering the Inaugural M C Setalvad Memorial Lecture on Canons of Judicial Ethics organised by the Bar Association of India recently.

It was an evening given to remembering one of India’s finest lawyers– a ‘grand’ practioner, who charged ‘reasonable’ fees irrespective of stakes and respected Judges, but declined Judgeship.

The hall packed mostly with judges and lawyers heard a message from former Supreme Court Judge V R Krishna Iyer: ”Today, when the decline and fall have become deleteriously visible in the two sister professions, the memory of Setalvad will be a necessary admonition.”

The ethics topic sat well with 2005 dubbed the Year of Excellence in Judiciary. Judicial misconduct in India has no legal remedy.

Codes of ethics have been tried time and again, Justice Lahoti said, adding that if required to make a reference to such documents, he would ”confine myself… to three”:

— The Restatement of Values of Judicial Life adopted by the Chief Justices’ Conference of India, 1999

— The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, 2002

— The Oath of a Judge as contained in the Third Schedule of the Constitution of India.

As Justice Lahoti spelt out the documents it became clear that a number of Judges are already in violation of one or another of the canons of ethics.

Take Canon 4 of the Restatement: A Judge should not permit any member of his immediate family, such as spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law or any other close relative, if a member of the Bar, to appear before him or even be associated in any manner with a cause to be dealt with by him.

Over a year ago, the Bar Council of India (BCI) asked the government to transfer 130 High Court Judges who have relatives practising in courts in which they function. That meant almost one in four HC Judges. India’s 21 HCs between them had close to 500 Judges in place, the remaining positions being vacant. No action ensued.

The BCI is the apex statutory grouping of India’s 800,000 or so lawyers.

The trouble, experts say, is that a code of ethics cannot be enforced.

Indeed, as Law and Justice Minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj reminded audience, ethics cannot be foisted on anyone and should be left to the institution to evolve or embrace.

Nor does law in India make a proper provision to discipline Judges.

One option provided is impeachment, which, experts say, is more a political remedy than legal. It failed the only time it was invoked in 1992 against a Supreme Court Judge accused of corruption.

With Congress Members of Parliament under a whip to abstain in the vote to impeach Justice V Ramaswamy, Parliament virtually abdicated its duty to ensure accountability in Judiciary.

That was not perhaps the first time an Indian Judge had misbehaved. It certainly was not the last.

A spate of allegations has surfaced over the years involving HC Judges– in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Bombay, Delhi, Chennai, Calcutta and Punjab and Haryana– in bribery, sex and abuse of office, resulting in a few cases to transfer, removal, even arrest.

In one bizarre episode, dozens of HC Judges took leave en masse because two of them were asked by their Chief Justice to explain why they took complimentary membership from a club, which was a litigant.

One of Justice Lahoti’s predecessors, Justice Sam Piroj Bharucha told a lawyers’ meet in Kollam, Kerala three years ago 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.”

A year later, Justice Bhupinder Nath Kirpal told a judicial colloquium that Judges ”are also Indian citizens who come from the same aggregate as those in the legislature and the administration.”

”Therefore,” Justice Kirpal said, ”there are also instances where corruption and incompetence have also pervaded the judicial establishment that cannot be denied.”

But as Justice Lahoti pointed out, ”The Judge can ill-afford to seek shelter from the fallen standard in the society.”

The trouble, experts say, is that in absence of a clearly laid down law, opacity takes over where will to cover up asserts itself.

Former Chief Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, during whose tenure the Supreme Court Judges adopted the resolutions on Values of Judicial Life in May 1997, has called for a clear law to discipline errant Judges.

In a radio talk show aired two months ago, Justice Verma said: ”Time has come for enforcing judicial accountability.”

Asked to explain his insistence that the process be conducted by the judiciary itself, he said any external effort would be dangerous for judiciary’s independence.

Justice Verma said he sent the resolutions in December 1997 to then caretaker Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, requesting enactment of such a law. ”It has not happened so far.”

Some two months ago, Bhardwaj announced a Group of Ministers set up to suggest steps to strengthen the Judges Inquiry Act 1968 as part of an effort to ensure accountability in governance.

Asked after the Lecture as to when the group will give its findings, the Minister told UNI it would probably be after the Budget session.

Corruption in their ranks is not the only issue Judges must reckon with: they have a huge workload– 24 million pendencies– and inadequate strength– 14,000 judicial officers from district level upwards, as against an estimated need of 50,000, topped by a large many vacancies.

Experts question lingering HC vacancies considering that the five member apex court collegium expected to select appointees knows well in advance when a vacancy is due to arise.

Law Ministry officials say 222 HC positions were vacant against an approved strength of 719 last year when the United Progressive Alliance took over from the National Democratic Alliance.

Bhardwaj has said all vacancies will be filled by the end of this year.

”It is futile to think of excellence,” Justice Lahoti said in his lecture, unless judges– howsoever highly or howsoever lowly placed– ”were to follow the canons of judicial ethics.”

He recounted how veteran Judges handled ethical issues. One instance involved a dinner for Judges given by a lawyer– paid for by a client whose matter was to come up in the court a day later while another was about a Vacation Judge approached for ‘interim’ stay by an advocate who happened to be the son of the then Chief Justice.

The dinner story in former Chief Justice Pralhad Balacharya Gajendragadkar’s words: ”So far as I know, I and K C Das Gupta did not attend. Most of others did. The dinner was held on a Saturday at a hotel. On Monday next, before the Bench over which B P Sinha presided and I and K C Das Gupta were his colleagues, we found that there was a matter pending admission between the management of the hotel chain and its workmen.

”I turned to Sinha and said: ‘Sinha, how can we take this case? The whole lot of supervisors and workmen in the hotel is sitting in front and they know that we have been fed in the hotel ostensibly by the lawyer but in truth at the cost of the hotel, because the very lawyer who invited the judges to the dinner is arguing in the hotel’s appeal.’

”Sinha, the great gentleman that he was, immediately saw the point and said: ‘This case would go before another Bench’.”

Justice Iyer’s tale of the Vacation Judge: ”Naturally, since the caller was an advocate, and on top of it, the son of the Chief Justice, the vacation judge allowed him to call on him. The ‘gentleman’ turned up with another person and unblushingly told the vacation judge that his companion had a case that day on the list of the vacation judge. He wanted a ‘small’ favour of an ‘Interim stay’.

”The judge was stunned and politely told the two men to leave the house. Later, when the Chief Justice came back to Delhi after the vacation, the victim judge reported to him about the visit of his son with a client and his ‘prayer’ for a stay in a pending case made at the home of the Judge.

”The Chief Justice was not disturbed but dismissed the matter as of little consequence. ‘After all, he only wanted an interim stay’, said the Chief justice, ‘and not a final decision’.”

The incident, Justice Lahoti went on, ”reveals the grave dangers of personal visits to judges’ residences under innocent pretexts.

”This is the way functional felony creeps into the judiciary. A swallow does not make a summer maybe, but deviances once condoned become inundations resulting in credibility collapse of the institution.”

”A little isolation and aloofness are the price which one has to pay for being a judge, because a judge can never know which case will come before him and who may be concerned in it. No hard and fast rule can be laid down in this matter, but some discretion must be exercised.”

Audience were told of a lawyer who actually observed ethics.

Setalvad remained ever a lawyer and never agreed to become a judge. His fees ”were reasonable and did not vary depending upon the stakes involved in a case.”

He seemed to have instinctively grasped the true function of a Law Officer stressed in English Courts– Counsel for the Crown neither wins nor loses. He is there to state the law and facts to the Court.

Setalvad joined the Bombay Bar in 1911 and rose to occupy such high offices as Advocate General of Bombay 1937-42, Attorney General of India 1950-63, Chairman of the Law Commission 1955-58 and Member of Rajya Sabha 1966-72.

He also represented India before the Radcliffe Commission and the United Nations 1947-50.

”In those days,” Bhardwaj said, recalling the post independence era, ”there were no sharp practices at the bar at all. There was no need for such concerns. Such an occasion never arose.”

These are ”difficult times,” he acknowledged. Standards have ”gone down.”

He said the BCI had not performed its duty. The Bar has been ”left behind by many decades… So much adulteration has come into this institution.”

Many lawyers may not even know who Setalvad was, he remarked.

Organisers thanked Chennai-based Senior Advocate G Vasantha Pai, a former BAI General Secretary, who contributed Rs 15 lakh to conduct the lecture annually, for ”giving us back” Setalvad.

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