Even as the cabinet has approved a bill to put in place a mechanism to deal with complaints against erring judges, it has placed a huge onus on the complainant – provide substantive evidence to back the allegations of wrongdoing against a judge or face heavy penalties.
In order to discourage frivolous complaints, the proposed Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill envisages imposing heavy penalties on the complainants who fail to prove their charges against an erring judge with reliable evidence.
The bill that got cabinet approval last Tuesday says that if a complaint upon investigation is found to be false then the complainant would attract heavy fine.
Sources in the union law and justice ministry said the safeguards were being put to protect the judges from slanderous complaints that had the potential of sullying their image.
The bill takes into account the fact that from the filing of the complaint and its investigation to ascertain whether it made a prima facie case, the judge against whom the complaint has been lodged would suffer in silence because there is no mechanism for a judge under cloud to publicly clear his position.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill provides for setting up of a National Oversight Committee (NOC) to be headed by a retired chief justice of the apex court to look into the complaints filed by litigants or even a commoner against judges.
Besides a retired chief justice of India who would head the NOC, its other members would include a serving judge of the Supreme Court and that of a high court, the attorney general and an eminent jurist.
Describing the entire bill as a “self defeating exercise”, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that usually it is very difficult to have any documentary evidence to back a charge against an erring judge.
According to Bhushan, the jurist on the NOC will be nominated by the president.
Such a committee, Bhushan said would “neither be independent of the court nor of the government”.
The senior counsel further says that the provision of imposing heavy costs would “deter the complainant” from lodging the complaint.