Topic: General Studies 2:
- Challenges associated with Judiciary & executive
- Judicial Accountability
Judiciary and Executive: AP CM Letter to CJI
Context: Recently, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy has stirred a hornet’s nest by writing to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) complaining about Supreme Court(SC) judge Justice N.V. Ramana.
What were the allegations levelled in the letter?
- Mr. Jagan said that Justice Ramana was a legal adviser and additional advocate-general in the previous government of the TDP.
- AP CM has alleged that SC judge Justice N.V. Ramana (next in line to become CJI as per seniority) had been influencing the sittings and posting of cases in the State High Court.
- AP CM has also cited instances of how matters important to the opposition Telugu Desam Party had been ‘allocated to a few judges’ and that some High Court judges are hostile to his government & deliberately striking down his government orders
- In effect, he has accused many judges of misconduct, corruption and political bias.
- In view of the above, the Chief Minister urged the Chief Justice of India to consider initiating steps to ensure that the State’s judicial neutrality was maintained.
How are allegations of misconduct against judges dealt with?
- The Constitution protects the independence of judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court by making them removable only through a long process of impeachment.
- However, not all forms of misconduct will warrant impeachment. There could be other kinds of impropriety too.
- There are times when serious complaints of this sort are received, and the CJI is called upon to examine them.
- Since 1997, judges have adopted an ‘in-house procedure’ for inquiring into such charges.
When was the procedure adopted?
- After Justice J.S. Verma took over as CJI in 1997, he circulated among judges a document called ‘Restatement of Values of Judicial life’. This was a set of principles containing the essential elements of ideal behaviour for judges.
- The Full Court passed a resolution that an ‘in-house procedure’ would be adopted for action against judges for acts of commission or omission that go against these values.
- A five-judge committee was constituted to come up with a procedure. Its report was adopted on December 15, 1999. It was made public in 2014.
How does the in-house procedure work?
- When a complaint is received against a High Court judge, the CJI should decide if it is considered frivolous or if it is serious and “directly related to the merits of a substantive decision in a judicial matter”.
- If it is serious, the CJI should get the judge’s response. He may close the matter if he is satisfied with the response.
- If a deeper probe is considered necessary, both the complaint and the judge’s response, along with the CJI’s comments, are recorded for further action.
- After considering the High Court’s Chief Justice, the judge involved (accused of Political bias) and the complaint (here AP CM), the CJI, if deemed necessary, forms a three-member committee.
- If a Supreme Court judge faces such a charge, the in-house panel will comprise three Supreme Court judges.
- The inquiry the three-member committee holds is of the nature of a fact-finding mission and is not a formal judicial inquiry involving examination of witnesses. The judge concerned is entitled to appear before it.
What happens after the probe is done?
- If the committee finds substance in the charges, it can give two kinds of recommendations. One, that the misconduct is serious enough to require removal from office, or that it is not serious enough to warrant removal.
- In the former case, the judge concerned will be urged to resign or seek voluntary retirement.
- If the judge is unwilling to quit, the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned would be asked to withdraw judicial work from him.
- The President and the Prime Minister will be informed of the situation. This is expected to clear the way for Parliament to begin the process of impeachment.
How will the CM’s complaint be handled?
- The complaint by the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister will have to be examined by the CJI from the perspective of whether it can be rejected as baseless, or it requires a deeper investigation.
- In details annexed to his letter, Mr. Reddy has cited several writ petitions in which adverse orders were passed against his regime.
Consequences of this controversy
- Impacts Democratic Functioning: Such type of confrontation and mistrust between two organs of State is not conducive for smooth working of Democracy. The ultimate victim will be the common man who will be bereft of better governance
- Politicization of Judiciary: The serious accusation by a sitting Chief Minister brings out to the foreground the weakness of Judiciary. Similar kind of charges might be levelled by opposition parties when it comes to power. All these leads to politicization of the Institution of Judiciary.
- Integrity of SC Judges is doubted: Every judgement delivered the judges involved in this controversy will be questioned which is not good even from Institutional perspective
- Legitimacy of the institution at stake: Such type of allegations and counter allegation will create doubts in minds of Public about the ability to get justice from Formal system. As a result, people will tend to fall back on undemocratic informal judicial systems like Khap Panchayats.
- Judiciary’s Grievance Redressal Mechanism tested: How the CJI & SC is going to handle this case will set a precedent to deal with misconduct of Judges in future. If the process is not robust, fair & transparent then the calls for greater executive control on Judiciary will increase (Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill)
Connecting the dots:
- National Judicial Appointments Commission
- Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill