School kids who resent being penalised for being late or for falling asleep in class can take heart. Hopefully, from the next year, even judges of Supreme Court and High Courts will be in serious trouble if they come late to court or cannot resist dozing off during arguments. Indeed, they can face inquiry and risk incurring punishment stretching from censure to removal.
These are among the high standards and accountability proposed for judges of higher judiciary in the new Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2009, which after undergoing 18 drafts is ready to go before the Cabinet in a day or two, law ministry sources told.
Courts have not been immune to the problem of lack of punctuality, seen by many as a national trait because of its spread across regions, demographics and institutions. The `late-latifs’ among judges in SC and HCs have so far got away simply because of the absence of any mechanism to chastise these holders of constitutional posts to be punctual and attentive. The government now seems to be keen to wean the judges off their fondness for Indian Standard Time — the euphemism that creative minds have coined to describe the cultural problem that sees emphasis on puncuality as alien, even hostile, to desi ethos.
A brainchild of law minister Veerappa Moily and drafted and re-drafted with assistance from attorney general G E Vahanvati and solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam, the new bill has a provision that will surely make the judges of higher judiciary sit up and take notice — “punctuality and devotion towards duty”.
Anyone who finds a judge not punctual or not devoted to duty — dozing off once too often during hearings or being habitually late in delivering judgments — could lodge a complaint against that judge with an Oversight Committee specifically provided to receive such complaints.
The Oversight Committee would thoroughly scrutinise the complaint and its veracity. If the complaint was found to be false, then the complainant would be proceeded against and he could end up behind bars for up to five years.
But if the Committee was satisfied about the merits of the complaint, then it would refer it to a high-powered Special Investigation Committee (SIC) for a through probe and remedial action, which could include possible removal of the judge.
Moily refused to be drawn into the details of the bill, saying it would be shortly put before the Cabinet for approval. However, he said accountability was a must to erase delays plaguing the justice delivery system.
“There should be a full stop to delays. That type of environment will be created through the Judicial Standards & Accountability Bill. Judicial independence will be sustained and at the same time highest standards of accountability will be fastened,” Moily told TOI.
Apart from making the voluntary asset declaration by judges, as per the apex judiciary’s resolution of May 7, 1997 a statutory requirement, the bill gives a wider meaning to assets and liabilities.