JCA: Judicial Corruption & Accountability

By Prabhakar Timble
28 August 2012 08:36 IST

The Chief Minister of West Bengal drew flak for the recent critical comments on judicial corruption. The Chief Minister invited censure from all quarters for the statement that judicial orders are purchasable commodities.  Though the timing of the comment is improper since it came on the occasion when the chief minister’s applecart was upset by the high court verdict against her government over the Singur land act and also the several verdicts passed by the Calcutta High Court which have also gone against her government, the opinion expressed by the explosive Mamata Banerjee is not very far from truth and the public perception of the judiciary.

Corruption of silence

The anger against judicial corruption does not echo on the roads or on the Ram Lila grounds like the resonance of rage against Executive and administrative corruption may be due to three reasons. First, the civil society as a whole looks at judiciary as a saviour against the excesses of the Executive and the unconstitutional advances of the Parliament. Second, the judiciary is held in high esteem since the officers are selected and not elected and the authority is considered to be independent and therefore free from the politics of majority or minority as well as the influence of money and muscle power. Thirdly, the hidden silence on judicial corruption could be the offshoot of the privilege that the judiciary enjoys due to the draconian Contempt of Courts Act. Otherwise, there is no reason since there are rags to riches stories in judiciary, favouritism in judicial appointments and promotions, disproportionate accumulation of assets by judicial officers, absence of Citizen’s Charter in lower and higher judiciary, total neglect and disregard in adhering to any sort of time-bound provision of judicial services and traces of “family raj” on the Bench viewed with a macro angle.

A highly esteemed member of the Bar has in an affidavit to the Supreme Court enumerated acts of corruption involving a big chunk of former Chief Justices of the higher judiciary. The Bar off the record and also in public discourses speak about the corruption in the judiciary and relate the stories of corruption with relish and record them as their accomplishments with the clients. Former and sitting judges have spoken about the malaise in the temples of law and justice.  For every high ranking corrupt officer in government there will be equally seasoned corrupt men on the Bench. To match a corrupt minister or politician we will locate men on the Bar without difficulty.  The judicial premises are also infested with corruption. For a subordinate corrupt government official there will be the corrupt judicial officer in subordinate judiciary to balance the weighing scale. Finally, the court officers and the staff in Registry would provide company to the corrupt government employees in the revenue and regulatory departments. If we speak of bribery in issue of ration cards and residence certificates in government, we find similar crisis system in issue process notices and copy of orders or judgements.

The provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act and the privileges accorded to the judiciary were for the avowed objective of maintaining high standards of judicial independence and morale of judicial officers. The armoury and arsenal at the hands of the Courts provided by the contempt provisions has kept the civil society and the otherwise over activist modern media from any form of exposure of corruption in lower and higher judiciary. Otherwise, I find no explanation for almost day to day and many times minute to minute publicity and disclosure of corruption in government and complete hands-off on judicial corruption.

The purpose of putting the above on record is not to throw stones at an institution which has upheld the “basic structure” of the Indian Constitution and guarded the primary law of this country from being defaced and defiled. Through innovative jurisprudence enunciated through the public interest litigation and social action litigation, the judiciary has attempted to provide access to masses and the underprivileged. Through judicial law-making and activism, the Courts have expanded human rights and asserted the rights of the marginalised and the silent non-vocal majority.

Independence demands self-discipline

It is our right to expect accountability in judicial administration as much as we expect accountability from the government, officers of the Executive and the legislators. Much of the accountability and responsiveness has got lot to do with the efficacy, effectiveness and efficiency of judicial officers. Of late, the judiciary has taken on itself the responsibility of measuring losses to the citizens on account of delays and deficiency in public administration. The same exercise needs to be done by the judiciary to its own house. A delay in judicial decisions also causes irreparable loss to business, government and the litigants. There are opportunities which are lost. Public projects are delayed beyond reasonable limits and in many cases there is a paralysis of decision-making by the executives and administrators. Delay has become a rule in judiciary. This rule also proves to be the cause of litigation explosion since delays benefit the interests on the wrong side of law and justice.

As we constantly debate on corruption in government, judicial corruption should not be a sacred cow. Whatever reforms and amendments necessary to the Contempt of Courts Act and The Judges (Protection) Act which need to be made to further this cause should be effected. Journalists should be free to comment on any case or matter when it is being heard. Citizen-oriented and responsive governance has necessitated new laws such as right to delivery of public services, right to information et al. These laws have built in provisions for fines against erring officers and compensation to citizen for delay in delivery of services. It is also the time to bring in such standards of accountability in delivery of judicial services to rekindle the confidence of people in judiciary and justice. Such steps may reduce the load of the “case-law” bag on judges and lawyers which manufactures pages after pages and many times volumes of unintelligible propositions including rhetoric unrelated to the final operational outcome of the judgement.

Judicial corruption, delays and non-accountability of judges cannot be a price to be paid for judicial independence. It would be an anti-thesis if it is allowed to continue with rising expectations of the citizens from the government and practically none from the judiciary. The Supreme Court and the High Courts should kick-start the ball of self-discipline, self-regulation and transparency.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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