Many Opposition parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Wednesday slammed the government in the Lok Sabha for bringing “a highly ineffective and an opaque” Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, that provides for taking up investigations against judges. They wanted it withdrawn and redrafted.
The Opposition members did not buy Law and Justice Minister Salman Khursheed's argument that the law would strengthen the judiciary and increase people's confidence in it. The Bill sought to lay down judicial standards and provide for accountability of judges, and establish a credible and expedient mechanism with regulated procedure for investigating individual complaints against Supreme Court/High Court judges, he said while moving the Bill for the consideration of the House.
Initiating the debate, BJP's D.B. Chandre Gowda said the Bill was not clean and therefore unacceptable. He demanded the setting up of a Judicial Commission. “The present Bill is highly ineffective and opaque.” The government should redraft it after taking a holistic view of the policy parameters and other requirements.
Mr. Gowda also recorded his strong objections to the composition of the National Judicial Oversight Committee (NJOC) which would inquire into the complaints against judges. According to the provisions, the Committee would have non-judicial members. This would impinge on the independence of judges, Mr. Gowda said. The constitutional amendments being brought in with the Bill did not fit in with the provisions it was making. It was also not clear who all would constitute the Investigation Committee (against judges) provided for in the Bill.
NJOC must be given wider constitutional powers, including the power to take help from outside for getting more information. The idea of providing for judicial standards irrespective of their content was also to be kept in view. “Of late, judges are being questioned by the general public, the Bar as well as the Bench, and their behaviour in the court is also attracting the attention of the people and the litigants at large. The Bill should not act as a deterrent to these expressions or feelings,” he said.
Manish Tewari (Congress) said the Bill might not be the “only solution” and there was a need to look at the issue of appointment and transfer of High Court/Supreme Court judges. He wanted the members to approve the Bill, rising above partisan politics, as there was a “rare unanimity” on having judicial standards and an architecture of accountability in the judiciary.
Vijay Bahadur Singh (BSP) sought proper scrutiny of judges' background at the “entry point.” He said the legislation was silent on the subject. “Make the appointment of judges as difficult as is the case of the Indian Administrative Service officer” to prevent nepotism, he said. He also demanded quota for SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities in the posts. The BSP member even advised the government to take back the Bill and review it as “the entire judiciary requires a complete overhaul from bumper to bumper.”
Arjun Rai (JD-U) claimed that after misusing the CBI and moving to create a Lokpal which would “toe its line,” the UPA-II government was now trying to “control the judiciary too” through the Bill.
Shailendra Kumar (Samajwadi Party) stressed on the need for setting up a national judicial commission to go into the requirements and service conditions of the judiciary.
Earlier, Mr. Khursheed, seeking the passage of the Constitution (114th Amendment) Bill, 2010, (related to the main Bill), said it would help the government and the judiciary bring down the pendency of cases from the present 15 years to three to five years in the next three years.
The constitutional amendment also seeks to increase the retirement age of High Court judges from the present 62 to 65 years — bringing it on a par with the retirement age of Supreme Court judges, he said.
It was in 1963 that the retirement age of High Court judges was increased to 62 years from 60.