JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY IN INDIA - AN UNANSWERED QUESTION

Updated: Mar 14

Introduction

Any authority vested with powers and responsibilities must have accountability as well in order to keep the integrity in the framework intact. Accountability works on the integrity of the framework of the institution. It seeks to bring in transparency and make the institution strictly answerable to the public at large. The judiciary is also one such institution which must be held accountable for its actions.

This needs to be done to ensure that the judiciary is not above the law and it is about the law. The judiciary is also a means to the strict observance of the law of the land by being its interpreter and protector rather than an authority which would lie above it.

Co-Relation Of The Independence And Accountability Of Judiciary

The independence of the judiciary is much advocated for the proper functioning of the democracy and for being a deterrent on the arbitrary actions of the other two wings, the legislature and the executive. The people repose their belief in the judiciary by placing it on the highest pedestal expecting justice and protection of their rights. However it is pertinent to note here that if the judiciary is not also accountable for its actions then the belief of the people would no longer remain intact and soon shatter.

It becomes absolutely essential for us to understand the importance of judicial accountability as judicial independence alone cannot exist as the faith of the people is reposed in the judiciary which would remain so only if the judiciary is also accountable along with being independent. An effective judiciary can function when it is accountable. Some may insist accountability to principles or to oneself rather than to any authority with the power of punishment or correction.[1]


An increased public perception of judicial accountability which is directly dependent on personal accountability can determine the degree of acceptable judicial independence. Thus, judicial accountability is a necessary means to reinforce independence and to ensure an effective judiciary. It can thus be said that independence and accountability are two sides of the same coin and complement each other.

What Is The Need Of Judicial Accountability?

For any democracy to function properly it becomes imperative that the authorities should be kept under a check of accountability. Power in a democracy always comes with responsibility. For the democracy to function properly as a whole not just the political authorities should be held accountable but also every single person who is vested with any power which has a bearing on the public welfare and the public at large.

The Supreme Court had very appropriately asserted that, “A single dishonest judge not only dishonors himself and disgraces his office but jeopardizes the integrity of the entire judicial system.”[2]

In India the judges have always been held in high regard since prehistoric times, they were considered next to God while delivering any judgment. The present day does not see much change in the reverence with which the judges are looked at. Consequently it becomes absolutely necessary for the judges to be responsible and answerable.

Absence Of Judicial Accountability In India

The fact that the Indian judiciary would actually develop to be the most impressive foundation of the state must not have been in the thoughts of the framers of the constitution 70 years back from now. They bestowed the judiciary with power to interpret the constitution and the laws, to strike down the executive’s actions which disregarded any law and to look at whether laws formulated by parliament complied with the constitution and pronounce them void in the event that they abused it.

In such circumstances, it becomes imperative that judges of the predominant judiciary ought to be made responsible for their conduct. Tragically, neither the constitution, nor some other law has explicitly made any organization or framework to analyze the exhibition of judges or look at objections against them.

As per the provisions of the constitution the judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court can be removed from their office by the process of impeachment. The prescribed process is so cumbersome that it becomes nearly impracticable to hold the judges accountable through it. The number of the judges who have so far been impeached is negligible or no number at all.

Judicial Accountability and Order

The judiciary is supposed to be independent and free from the influence of any political and other substances of the society. However judicial independence does not in any case allow the judiciary to act and exercise their powers as it pleases. Undoubtedly, the independence depends on open trust and, to look after it, it is essential that judges must meet the expectations of trustworthiness and must be responsible to the people.

The judiciary must be responsible to the law, as in the choices made are as per the law and are not subjective. Like some other parts of government, it should likewise be responsible to the people it serves. Building up a culture of autonomy, unprejudiced nature and responsibility among the adjudicators is a significant advance towards guaranteeing the general trustworthiness of the judiciary.

Ethical Codes for Judges

Certain ethical codes which judges should abide by keeping in view the accountability it has to maintain[3]-

  1. Judicial decision must be forthright- a judicial decision cannot be forthright except if it has been chosen in light of a fair sentiment framed in the lattice of the adjudicators capable of law and actuality. A decision gets unscrupulous if not settled on legal conviction of trustworthiness, reasonableness and lack of bias.

  2. No man should be a judge in his own case- The fundamental moral standard is that no man can be judge in his own case. This moral standard limits not exclusively to the reason where the appointed authority is a genuine gathering to a case, yet additionally to a case wherein he has any interest. An appointed authority isn't required to adjudicate for a situation on the off chance that he has his interest in that.

  3. Judges should administer equity- Judges ought to be brave to regulate equity. "Fiat justitia, ruat caelum" signifies "Let equity be done however the sky fall" must be followed as a saying by an adjudicator.

  4. Equal opportunity- the parties to the question should be given fair and equal opportunity in the hearing of the matter before any judgment is delivered.

Judicial Accountability Bill

An attempt was made in 2012 to bring accountability of the higher judiciary into the real picture through the judicial accountability bill. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha but couldn’t be discussed in the Rajya Sabha as parliament was adjourned and later lapsed due to Lok Sabha’s dissolution.

The bill was introduced as a response to the rising questions over the accountability of the judiciary. It proposed that judges were to declare their assets and liabilities and were to observe standard codes of conduct. The bill also proposed to enable any person to file a complaint to the committee under the act. The bill faced some opposition from some people of the legal fraternity who claimed it to be a compromise with the independence of the judiciary.

At present, the complaints against judges can be made through a motion in Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha which is governed by the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1986.

Conclusion

There is no denial from the fact that accountability of the judiciary is an inevitable need of the hour for the sustenance and proper functioning of democracy. It is no less important than the independence of the judiciary as power without responsibility results in arbitrary functioning of the authority. Legislative reforms need to address this need as the judiciary needs to be accountable.

The adjudicators need to understand that despite the fact that the people of India have bestowed upon them the powers to work autonomously through the Constitution of India, they have noteworthy obligation towards the people whom they are appointed to serve.


References

1. David Pimentel, ‘Reframing the Independence Vs. Accountability Debate’

2. Anil Divan, ‘Judicial Integrity’

3. CANONS OF JUDICIAL ETHICS by Justice Y.K.Sabarwal, Former Chief Justice of India


Author - Ayushi Raghuwanshi

Student at Amity University Rajasthan.

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