Why does Mamata Banerjee want to say it a thousand times that favourable verdicts are given in return for money. The Calcutta high court has admitted a contempt plea to make her see reason. Question is why is Mamata so keen on taking on the judiciary and why now?
The central government is working overtime to have the Judicial Standards & Accountability Bill, 2010 (“judicial accountability law”) passed to make judicial accountability enforceable.
On the independence day, the chief justice of India (CJI) cautioned the central government not to show undue haste in pushing the judicial accountability law.
Currently, the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life adopted by full court meeting of the supreme court in 1997 provides the guidelines to the supreme court and high court judges in conducting their functions.
The statement of objects explains that any conduct by a judge which lacks demonstrable integrity and dignity would undermine the trust reposed in judiciary under the constitution, hence should be subject to accountability and oversight.
The following judicial standards have been set out in the accountability law:
1. Norms, including punctuality and commitment to work, guidelines and conventions essential for the conduct and behaviour of judges, being prerequisite for an independent, strong and respected judiciary, having integrity and detachment and impartial administration of justice as reflected in the Restatement of Values already adopted by the conference of chief justices held in 1999 shall be practised by every judge.
2. All times be conscious that he is under the public gaze and not do any act or omission which is unbecoming of the high office he occupies and the public esteem in which that office is held.
3. A degree of aloofness consistent with the dignity of his office shall be practised by every judge.
4. Judgments should speak for themselves.
The judicial accountability law seeks to set up a National Judicial Oversight Committee (NJOC) comprising of:
- a retired CJI as its chairman,
- a judge of the supreme court nominated by the CJI,
- a chief justice of a high court nominated by the CJI,
- attorney general of India,
- an eminent person nominated by the president of India.
The central government has control on the NJOC since majority of the members are nominees/officers of the central government.
Additionally, the central government has powers to appoint an advocate to conduct cases against a judge.
The central government will further frame rules regarding the form and manner in which a complaint against a judge is to be made and the form for disclosure of assets and liability statements by judges.
The trappings of the judicial accountability law almost look like an attempt to create a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by a different name, specially dedicated for working on judges.
The intent and purpose of the judicial accountability law, i.e., to lay down judicial standards and provide accountability, establish credible and expedient mechanism for investigating complaints of misbehaviour or incapacity of judges of the supreme court and high courts – has been completely lost sight of in the drafting of the Law.
The government of the days seems to have forgotten that the Central Government is also a litigant before the very Judge whom it seeks to oversee through the NJOC. Credibility of the NJOC is very suspect, given the growing intolerance of the central government to adverse orders by higher judiciary.
CBI remains as a stick in the hands of the central government against adversaries – is the judicial accountability law now seeking to arm the central government with a similar stick against judges.
Can we trust the ruling class (read Mamata) not to try misuse NJOC against a judge who dares to admit a contempt plea against it (read her) or for that matter is this an indicator of how the central government would want to handle a stand-off with the higher judiciary in times to come?