A public meeting on judicial accountability here on Monday resolved “that when serious charges of corruption are being investigated [against a judge], the judge should not discharge functions of a judge during [the pendency of] such investigation.”

It also resolved that “the functioning of the judiciary in the matter of appointments and handling of complaints of corruption and other misconduct needs urgent and substantial reform to make it transparent and effective.”

Presiding over the meeting on ‘Accountability, Transparency and Independence of the Judiciary’, organised by the Committee of Civil Society Organisations for Transparency, Accountability and Independence of Judiciary, the former judge of the Bombay High Court, H. Suresh, said it was “absolutely necessary” for the Bar to take the lead when instances of judicial misconduct came to light. “If the Bar can’t speak, then who will speak?”

Stressing the need for an effective mechanism to root out corruption, Justice Suresh said the time had come for an appropriate law on the issue of judicial corruption. The Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, needed to be amended. Appointing a judicial ombudsman or setting up a judicial commission might not serve the purpose, he said, drawing a parallel to the “ineffective” Lok Ayukta.

Prashant Bhushan, advocate, Supreme Court, and member, Committee on Judicial Accountability, said that since there was no credible institution to inquire into charges against judges, a national judicial complaints commission needed to be set up. This body should be independent of both the government and the judiciary. Now, no investigation could be carried out against a sitting judge of a High Court or the Supreme Court without written permission from the Chief Justice of India. For long, contempt of court, especially the provisions of criminal defamation, deterred the media from publishing even proven allegations against judges. “I think that the [Y.K.] Sabharwal case was the turning point … The media suddenly lost fear of contempt after this.” On the elevation of Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran, Mr. Bhushan wanted to know how such a person came to be recommended by the Supreme Court collegium for appointment to the Supreme Court. “What is the system that the collegium followed? The answer is that there is no system. It is hundred per cent arbitrary.” There was no set criterion for selection of judges. Did the collegium consider judicial temperament and whether the person had any understanding of the issues of the common man before it decided on a candidate?

Mr. Bhushan wanted the collegium to first lay down the criterion for elevation and make transparent the method of choosing persons based on that criterion. “A system has to be laid down ... This is not a job that can be entrusted to sitting judges …They do not have time for this task. We need an independent, professional body to select judges.” There should be transparency in all stages of selection.

K. Balakrishnan, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam; Fathima Bernard of the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum; and Ossie Fernandes, Director, Human Rights Foundation spoke.