Conflict of Interest and Recusal by Judges
● Two Supreme Court judges, Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Aniruddha Bose recused themselves from hearing cases related to West Bengal.
● Justice Anup Bhambani from the Delhi High Court also recused himself from hearing a case involving digital media houses challenging the validity of IT rules regulating intermediaries.
What is meant by recusal by the judge? Analyze the need to develop a formal process for recusals.
Recusal by judges:
● A judge can withdraw from hearing a matter if there is a conflict of interest. This is done to ensure that there is no bias.
● This is linked to the Principle of Natural Justice that no man can be a judge in his own case.
● The conflict of interest can be due to various reasons such as owning shares of a company that is a party in the case, having a prior or personal relationship with one of the parties. Another possible ground for recusal is if a High Court judgement is filed for an appeal in the Supreme Court and it was delivered by the Supreme Court judgewhen s/he was in the High Court
● There are no official rules regarding the recusal by judges but the Supreme Court in Ranjit Singh vs Union of India, 1987 held that the test for the likelihood of bias is the reasonableness in the apprehension in the mind of the party.
● The decision to recuse can come either from the judge acting out of his/her conscience or if the lawyers or parties bring it up before the judge.
● If a request for recusal is made, the judge can accept or reject the request. Justice U U Lalit decided to recuse the Ram Janmabhoomi case after one of the parties brought up that he had appeared as a lawyer in a case related to the matter. Justice Arun Mishra refused to recuse himself from a Constitutional Bench that was set up to re-examine a judgmentthat he had previously delivered.
● In the 2015 verdict on National Judicial Appointments Commission, Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Joseph Kurian held that judges should give reasons for recusal, this would contribute to transparency and help frame rules for the process.
Questions involving conflict of interest and recusal are quite important for the judiciary to act in an unbiased manner. It is the need of the hour to develop procedural and substantive rules regarding recusal to ensure that the judiciary continues to act in an impartial manner.