29 Aug 2007, 0000 hrs IST, PRASHANT BHUSHAN
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The TV channel had conducted a sting operation on officials of the district courts of Gujarat who were filmed negotiating amounts for getting warrants issued from the Gujarat courts. The “bribes” were paid and warrants were actually issued against the then president of India, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and others. The telecast was made after informing the Supreme Court about it.
The Supreme Court then took serious note of the matter and the Gujarat high court started a departmental inquiry against the judicial officers through whom the warrants were got issued. However, the high court acquitted the judicial officers. Thereafter, the CJI threatened to send the journalist concerned to jail for contempt unless he apologised.
Earlier this month, the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms held a press conference in Delhi to highlight a case of judicial misconduct at the highest places.
The documents released showed how the sons of a former chief justice of India had entered into partnerships with large shopping mall and commercial complex developers and got into the business of developing commercial complexes just before their father called the case of sealing commercial establishments operating from residential areas to himself and thereafter passed the orders of sealing them. These orders created panic in the city, led to the sealing of lakhs of shops and offices, and forced many of them to find spaces in malls and commercial complexes, thereby raising their prices enormously.
Around the same time, the sons’ companies were allotted several commercial plots of more than six acres in Noida, by the Mulayam Singh government. These plots worth over a hundred crore were allotted for a tenth of the price.
Meanwhile, the court restrained the media from showing Amar Singh’s infamous tapes.
A story of such great public interest, showing judicial misconduct at the highest places, was blacked out, ostensibly due to fear of courting contempt. And this, despite the fact that this was the case of a former judge, and that the Contempt of Courts Act had been recently amended to allow truth as a defence to a contempt action.
The judiciary is the only institution in the country which remains totally unaccountable. In order to provide for their independence, the Constitution made judges of the superior courts immune from removal except by impeachment.
The Ramaswami case and subsequent attempts to impeach judges have demonstrated the total impracticality of that instrument to discipline judges.
There has thereafter been persistent talk of setting up a National Judicial Commission, but it has been a non-starter with the judiciary firmly opposing any outside body with disciplinary powers over them. However, the self-disciplining mechanism suggested by the judiciary itself by way of an ‘in-house committee’ of judges to enforce a code of conduct nominally adopted by the judiciary in 1999, has also been a non-starter.
Compounding the problem further is the Supreme Court’s decree that no judge can be investigated for even criminal offences without the written consent of the chief justice of India. In the last 16 years since that judgment, no sitting judge in India has been subjected to a criminal investigation. And not because people have not tried. Very recently, the previous chief justice of India refused to accord permission to register an FIR against the senior judge of Lucknow who had purchased land worth Rs 7 crore for Rs 500,000 from well-known members of a land mafia in the name of his wife.
Various high courts have framed rules to make themselves virtually immune from the Right to Information Act. There can be no accountability with the threat of contempt looming over people.
(The writer is a senior Supreme Court advocate).
TIMES OF INDIA