Indian Judiciary: Issues of Accountability and Credibility
14, Nov 2022
Why in News?
- The reach of India’s highest court is all-pervasive. The Supreme Court sits in final judgment over decisions not only of the high courts in the states, but also over a hundred tribunals, central and state, functioning throughout India. Hence the accountability of apex court crucial for judicial system in India.
Brief in other words: Significance of judiciary
- Decisions of Courts are binding on all: The law declared by the Supreme Court, its pronouncements on the constitutional validity of enacted law, including constitutional amendments, is binding on all other courts and authorities in the country (Article 141).
- Executive and legislature are under the scrutiny of Courts: There is virtually no area of legislative or executive activity which is beyond the court’s scrutiny.
Why accountability of higher judiciary is necessary?
- High courts are not ready to reform themselves: In the Salem Advocate Bar Association case, the justices had requested the high courts to implement the detailed blueprint on case management most of them have not.
- Limitations of supreme court to govern the High courts: Supreme court could not direct the high courts to do so because under our constitutional scheme the latter are autonomous constitutional bodies not subject to administrative directions of the Supreme Court.
- Self-accountability in administrations of courts: It is in the high courts that there are now left the largest number of roadblocks and delays; in their administrative functioning the high courts are answerable to no one but themselves. This often enables the Supreme Court to plead helplessness, hardly a good augury for integrated court-management.
How judiciary can maintain its credibility and accountability?
- Judiciary need to Preserve the independence: the judiciary as an institution needs to preserve its independence, and to do this it must strive to maintain the confidence of the public in the established courts.
- Judges should safeguard the judges: The independence of judges is best safeguarded by the judges themselves through institutions and organisations that the law empowers them to set up, to preserve the image of an incorruptible higher judiciary that would command the respect of all right-thinking people.
- Reform on case management: A bench of three justices of the Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered in August 2005, had drawn up a fine blueprint on case-management, on how to make recent amendments in our procedural laws work on the ground, and how to get more cases moving along: For instance, on three different tracks, fast track, normal track and slow track.
- Supreme court should directly administer High courts: It is time that the Supreme Court be entrusted with direct responsibility for the functioning of the high courts: Only then can the highest court be an effective apex court, only then can the Supreme Court be made answerable, as it should be, for judicial governance for the entire country.
- Public disclosure of income by judges: Judges must make annual financial disclosure statements, not privately to their respective chief justices, but publicly. It is done by justices of the Supreme Court.
How judiciary in USA maintain its credibility and accountability?
- Judicial council act: In the United States, under the Judicial Councils Act, 1980, task of judicial independence has been gladly undertaken by the judges. But regrettably, so far, there is no law in India to guide our judges only “guidelines”. There is a felt need for a law.
- Judges investigate the judges: The 1980 US Act confers powers on bodies comprised of judges to take such action against a federal judge “as is appropriate, short of removal.”
- A case study of America: Under this law, some time ago, a committee of fellow judges had investigated complaints against a federal district judge, John McBryde; the Judicial Council reprimanded him and suspended him from hearing new cases for a year.
- Corruption Investigation Not violating the judicial independence: McBryde challenged the decision. He argued that the 1980 law violated the judicial independence which the US Constitution had guaranteed to life-tenured federal judges; But a US Court of Appeals rejected all these pleas.
- Oversight of judges is not interference: It accepted the argument of the US Solicitor-General that judicial independence, protected by Article III of the US Constitution, was meant to insulate judges from interference from other branches of government and not from oversight by other judges.
- In India, in the past and in recent times, some things have gone wrong. And citizens need the reassurance of a system of judicial accountability a remedial mechanism which will protect the higher judiciary from some of its own members who have gone astray. Such reassurance can only be provided by enacting a law on the lines of the American model.