Accountability, independence can coexist, Centre tells CJI
“Bill does not in any way infringe independence of judiciary”
Allaying the apprehensions expressed by Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia, the Centre on Friday made it clear that the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill would not in any way infringe the independence of the judiciary. The attempt to link the Bill with the independence of the judiciary was not based on facts, the Law and Justice Ministry said, in response to the CJI’s speech at the Independence Day celebrations organised by the Supreme Court Bar Association.
Justice Kapadia had said the judiciary was not afraid of laws to make judges accountable but cautioned the government not to tinker with its independence.
He said “I would request the government that accountability be balanced with judicial independence. In enacting laws, the concept of judicial independence should not be lost sight of”.
In its response, the Centre said “The Bill has been prepared after holding wide-ranging consultations and after holding discussions with legal experts, eminent jurists and non-governmental organisations. The Bill has three parts. It lays down Judicial Standards which are derived from the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life, 1997 and have the acceptance and approval of the Full Court of the Supreme Court. It makes it mandatory for the judges to declare their assets and liabilities. It makes provisions for filing of complaints by citizens and the mechanism for their scrutiny and subsequent action for investigation or otherwise”.
For this, “there are provisions for constituting [a] Complaints Scrutiny Panel (CSP) which will scrutinise the complaints. They will be referred to [the] National Judicial Oversight Committee (NJOC) for enquiry and action, only if there is a substance in them.”
The CSP and the NJOC comprise persons “who will be from the judiciary and who are expected to exercise due care and circumspection while handling complaints and before recommending action against judges”.
By enforcing standards of behaviour by declaration of assets held by them and by providing a mechanism for making complaints against erring judges and for their investigation, the Bill would establish the confidence and faith of the people in the judicial system without exposing them to unnecessary risk, said the Ministry.
“The provisions of the Bill do not in any way infringe on the independence of the judiciary which is [the] hallmark of Indian democracy and which is guaranteed under the Constitution. Accountability and independence can coexist in reinforcing mode and without affecting the working of the judiciary. The apprehensions expressed are then devoid of the understanding of the scheme of the Bill and without [an] understanding of the fact that it meets the aspirations of the people in a functioning democracy like India having a functioning judiciary”.