Accountability vs independence of judiciary
● The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister levelled serious allegations against Justice NV Ramana and other High Court judges.
● In a letter to Chief Justice Bobde, the CM complained that Justice Ramana had influenced the selection of High Court judges of Andhra Pradesh to allocate matters selectively.
“Judicial misconduct inquiries are governed by inadequate, opaque and self-fashioned rules.” Comment.
Judicial independence is a term that has two distinct meanings. One is that of separation of powers, called institutional independence. And second is decisional independence, that is to exist free of undue influence. Judicial accountability describes the view that judges should be held accountable in some way for their work.If a judge is completely independent, there is a lack of accountability. On the flip side, a judge that is completely accountable may feel pressured to rule in ways that please those to whom the judge is accountable.
Procedure for Complaints against sitting judges of Supreme Court and High Courts:
● The in-house procedure was adopted by the court in 1999 as a form of remedial action to deal with complaints about sitting judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts.
● Under the procedure relating to Supreme Court judges, the Chief Justice seeks the response of the judge about the complaint if he finds that it is seriousinvolving misconduct or impropriety.
● Upon receiving the response, if the Chief Justice believes that a deeper investigation is necessary, a committee of three judges is formed.
● Pressure tactics: Justice Ramana was hearing a PIL regarding special courtsto deal with cases involving MPs and MLAs. It is argued by some that the Andhra CM is facing serious allegations of corruption. The statements can be seen as an attempt to make Justice Ramana recuse, leading to bench hunting.
● Violating Supreme Court judgement: By releasing the contents of the letter to the public, the Andhra government violated the Supreme Court verdict in the Prashant Bhushan case. Propriety requires that the CM waits for the CJI’s response and not make the allegations public.
● Neglecting legal remedies: The government has legal remedies available if they are not satisfied with the Court. By making such strong allegations, the government is said to be neglecting remedies that are available to it.
Concerns regarding the allegations:
● There was no response from the Supreme Court for over five months regarding the letter despite the serious nature of allegations.
● The Supreme Court said that the letter had been dealt with under the in-house procedure and dismissed after due consideration; however, contents of the proceedings were strictly confidential displaying a lack of transparency.
● There are questions over how the in-house proceedings inquired into the matter. The proceedings found the allegations to be baseless but the Andhra CM was not given a chance to present his views.
● As the allegations were found to be baseless and an attempt to browbeat the judiciary, questions over why contempt proceedings were not instituted against the CM.
Not only should justice be done, but it must also be seen to be done. The recent incident has highlighted the inadequate, self-fashioned rules that govern inquiries into judicial misconduct. The need of the hour is for greater transparency and accountability from the judiciary regarding judicial misconduct.