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Erring judges: Government, Supreme Court differ on response
January, 12th 2012

At a time when judicial accountability is being hotly debated, the government and the Supreme Court appear to have shrugged off responsibility on the procedure to deal with complaints against erring judges with both giving contradictory RTI responses.

While the justice department said that the chief justice of the high court concerned and the CJI (for judges of the SC and the chief justices of other courts) had the competent authority to ascertain facts and take appropriate action, the then CJI Y K Sabharwal had in response to an RTI plea in 2006 rejected a complaint for action against an HC judge on the basis that neither the SC nor the CJI were "appointing or disciplinary authority'' in respect of judges of superior courts.

Significantly the government has also said that there was no provision to restrict HC judges from their entitlement of post-retirement benefits even if the judges had resigned prematurely to avoid contempt proceedings.

When asked in an RTI plea by activist S C Agrawal on action taken against judges, the justice department in its reply dated December 30, 2011 referred to a conference of chief justices in 1990, saying that the CJI had summed up the position by saying, "The CJ of the HC has the competence to receive complaints against the conduct of the judges of his court... where he is satisfied that the matter requires to be examined, he shall have facts ascertained in such a manner as he considers appropriate keeping the nature of allegations in view and if he is of the opinion that the matter is such that it should be reported to the CJI, he shall do so. The CJI shall act in a similar manner in regard to complaints relating to conduct of judges of the SC and CJs of high courts.''

In the 2006 reply to Agrawal, SC registrar and appellate authority Hemant Sampat quoted the then CJI Sabhawal and said, "Neither the SC nor the CJI were appointing or disciplinary authority in respect of judges of superior courts, including judges of HCs.'' Agrawal had in October 2005 complained against an HC judge misusing his position to former CJI R C Lahoti. No action was taken against the complaint. Agrawal approached the Central Information Commission (CIC) which in an order in April 2006 asked the SC to disclose the status of the complaint. Sabharwal's order in response to the CIC direction was that the he had examined the matter and found no merit in the complaint.

 
 
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