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Approach:

  1. Intro – define judicial accountability.
  2. Mention about the current framework for judicial accountability.
  3. Challenges faced in enforcing accountability.
  4. Conclusion – measures to enhance judicial accountability.

The term judicial accountability means that the judges are responsible for the decisions they deliver. The Judiciary is not subjected to the same level of accountability as the Executive or the Legislature. This is due to the principles of Judicial Independence. Judicial independence is considered ‘an essential pillar of liberty and the rule of law’. So if Judiciary is made accountable, it will impact its Independence. So special provisions have been provided to ensure judicial accountability.

Current Framework of Judicial accountability in India:

  • The Constitution of India provides for the removal of the judges of the Supreme Court of India & the High Courts for misbehaviour and proved incapacity by means of impeachment. The provisions of impeachment have been provided in the Article 124(4) and Article 217(1)(b) of the Constitution. Till now, no Judge has been impeached so far.
  • Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968 was passed to regulate the investigation procedure and to find proof showing incapacity and misbehaviour on the part of the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
  • In case of a complaint against a judge, the procedure allows the Chief Justice of that Court to set up an inquiry with a 3-judge committee. If the allegations are serious, the committee may recommend initiating proceedings for removal.
  • Article 235 of the Constitution provides for the ‘control’ of the High Court over the subordinate judiciary. It provides an effective mechanism to enforce accountability of the lower judiciary.
  • The Supreme Court of India adopted a Charter called the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life in 1997. The Charter contains guidelines for general behaviour of the Judges. However, it is not an instrument of judicial accountability in strictest terms.
  • A Supreme Court resolution in December 1999 declared that an ‘in-house procedure’ would be adopted to take action against judges who act against accepted values of judicial life.

Challenges in enforcing accountability: The most important challenge for the regulation of judicial accountability is that the judiciary is an independent organ, whose independence cannot be done away with. Any attempt to make the Judiciary accountable to the Legislature or Executive will make it susceptible to external pressure. It is very difficult to balance the Judicial Accountability vis-a-vis Judicial Independence. Again, the process can’t be diluted as it will impinge on judicial independence. Moreover, the SC and HC have the power of contempt, preventing imposition of anything without their consent. The judiciary being the final interpreter of laws, policies, rules etc., can easily strike down anything as per will.

What should be done ?:  Judiciary can publish an annual report, outlining its performance. Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was floated in 2010, but eventually lapsed. Hence, a new Bill on setting judicial standards is necessary. A permanent disciplinary committee should be set up at the central level to deal with complaints against judges. This committee should recommend further course of action based on the seriousness of misconduct. The SC should clarify the extent and scope of RTI applicability to the judiciary. The judiciary can also be brought under the scope of Lokpal to enhance accountability. A regular performance appraisal system for judges should be established. There is a mechanism for such evaluation at lower judicial level, but not for higher judiciary.

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