Not very long ago, a TV journalist, who conducted a sting operation in an Ahmedabad court, had got warrants issued against the then President of India, the then Chief Justice of India and many others by paying ‘bribes’ to court officials. This happened in late 2007, and then a bench headed by Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan was of the opinion that highlighting and publicizing such ‘isolated’ cases would bring the entire judiciary into disrepute. Corruption is prevalent in India from top to bottom, but now we are coming across so many cases of corruption in the judiciary too, that the common citizens are losing their faith on the judicial system.
There are four pillars of a democracy- the legislature, executive, judiciary and the fourth estate. The judiciary in our democracy has been sinking in the morass of inefficiency, corruption and delays. The Global Corruption Report 2007 says that corruption in judiciary is undermining judicial system, denying citizens access to justice and the basic human right to a fair and impartial trial, sometimes even to a trial at all. Petty bribery and political influence in the judiciary erodes social cohesion. One system for the rich and another for the poor, fractures communities.
The prevalence of corruption in the judiciary is not a secret anymore. Various judges have raised concerns about the same; some have even tried a guess. According to Justice SP Bharucha, former Chief Justice of India, around 20 per cent of the judges are corrupt. Another judge, Justice Michael Saldanha of the Karnataka High Court said the percentage is 33 per cent. Justice Saldanha also said that the public perception about corruption in the judiciary is much more important than its actual incidence. A series of scandals in the higher judiciary had recently hit headlines.
Nevertheless, the initiatives taken by the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court send a very positive message. Some former judges of the SC have said that the impeachment process is so ‘highly politicized’ and ineffective, that Calcutta High Court judge Soumitra Sen needn’t worry.
The fact remains that there is no proper mechanism to judge our judges. In the proposed impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court, Justice Sen was accused of having been involved in financial misappropriation, before he was appointed as a judge. The proposal is nothing new, but then there has been no single impeachment till date in our country. The only exception was the case of Justice V Ramaswami, who faced impeachment in 1991, an attempt that failed due to the absence of a political consensus. It is expected that history will not be repeated. If it is repeated, it would be a shame upon the Indian judiciary and its accountability.
The impeachment process is very lengthy or you can say that a judge can hardly be impeached. There can be no First Information Report (FIR) against the judges or a criminal investigation initiated, without prior approval of the Chief Justice of India.
Their immunity is reinforced by the fact that the procedure isn’t just cumbersome, but also susceptible to political influence.
There is an urgent requirement to reform our judiciary, before we loose all our trust on judicial system and move towards anarchy. The reform has to begin, with the higher judiciary and from this very point we have to go further to other reforms.
The judiciary in the country is of pivotal significance. The main duty of judiciary is to safeguard the Constitution and ensure governance in accordance with the laws. Preamble of our Constitution reads, “…to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic and to secure all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all: fraternity; assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.”
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