Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday said the government was having a rethink on the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill in view of objections from judges.
The Bill, pending in Parliament, seeks to lay down enforceable standards of conduct for judges. It requires judges to declare details of theirs and their family members’ assets and liabilities and it creates mechanism to allow any person to complain against judges on grounds of ‘misbehaviour or incapacity.’
“We want to have broad discussion with senior lawyers, former Chief Justices and judges and other stake holders before taking a view on it,” Mr. Prasad told The Hindu . On a National Judicial Commission providing for appointment and transfer of judges in the higher judiciary, Mr. Prasad said “even on this aspect we will have wider consultations.”
The Law Minister refused to be drawn into the controversy relating to putting on hold the elevation of senior advocate Gopal Subramanium as a judge of the Supreme Court, saying “no comments.” Asked what would be the government’s stand if the collegium headed by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha were to reiterate Mr. Subramanium’s recommendation, he said: “We will cross the bridge when it comes.”
When his attention was drawn to a Ghaziabad court’s action in summoning Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-Hee to appear in a cheating case and asked whether such instances would drive away investors, Mr. Prasad said the government had asked the Law Commission to examine whether cases relating to contractual disputes, which were purely civil in nature, could be turned into a criminal case. He said filing of such criminal cases was also affecting investment climate. He wanted the Commission to make the Arbitration Act more effective to make India a hub for international arbitration.
Mr. Prasad outlined the initiatives taken by his Ministry in the last 22 days to streamline the judicial system which was clogged by huge pendency of cases and vacancies of judges, particularly in the subordinate judiciary.
Mr. Prasad said he had written to Chief Justices of various High Courts and to the State governments to expedite the process of filling up vacancies in the subordinate judiciary keeping in view the vacancies that might arise in three years ahead. He had asked the Chief Justices and the States to fast-track trial relating to women, children and elderly people.
He said another area of concern was pendency of over 22-lakh cheque bouncing cases under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act and 18-20 lakh cases before the Motor Accidents Claims Tribunals. He had asked the Chief Justices of High Courts to suggest measures for speedy disposal of these cases.
On amendment to Lokpal selection rules, the Minister said: “Certain things are needed to be done to make the law meaningful.” On the absence of Leader of the Opposition to participate in the Lokpal selection process, he said the issue of LoP would be decided by the Lok Sabha Speaker.