A Bench of the Delhi High Court, while ruling that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a “public authority” that comes under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, said on Tuesday said the judges of superior courts should make public their assets as they were not less accountable than the judicial officers of lower courts who were bound by service rules to declare assets. Judicial independence was not a judge’s personal privilege but a responsibility cast upon him.
A judge should keep himself absolutely above suspicion, preserve the impartiality and independence of the judiciary and win the public confidence, it said.
“The introduction of the stipulation of declaring personal assets is to be seen as an essential ingredient of contemporary accepted behaviour and established convention. Judiciary of undisputed integrity is the bedrock institution essential for ensuring compliance with democracy and the rule of law. Even when all other protections fail, it provides a bulwark to the public against any encroachments of its rights and freedoms under the law,” the Bench said.
Accountability of the judiciary could not be seen in isolation. It must be viewed in the context of a general trend to render governors answerable to the people in ways that were transparent, accessible and effective. Behind this notion was a concept that the wielders of power – legislative, executive and judicial – were entrusted to perform their functions on a condition that they accounted for their stewardship to the people who authorised them to exercise such power.
“Well-defined and publicly known standards and procedures complement, rather than diminish, the notion of judicial independence. Democracy expects openness and openness is concomitant of free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” the Bench observed.
It quoted Edmund Burke, who said “``All persons possessing a portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust.”