Prateek Bhandari writes about how we came up with the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 in order to salvage the tainted Judiciary.
“[Judge] Learned Hand… asked, to whom am I responsible? No one can fire me. No one can dock my pay. Even those nine bozos in Washington, who sometimes reverse me, can’t make me decide as they wish. Then the Judge turned and pointed out to the shelves of his law library. To those books about us. That’s to whom I am responsible.” ~ Archibald Cox
In a democracy governed by the rule of law the Judiciary has been allotted the role of a sentinel on the qui vive to defend the fundamental rights and to hold even the scales of justice between the citizen and the state. In the past six decades the judiciary has indeed fulfilled its role as the watch dog on the other organs of the state apart from being a grievance redressal body. However, on critical review the Judiciary has fallen short of the vision of the framers of the Constitution and has betrayed the confidence reposed in it as they had envisioned the higher echelons of the judiciary as made up of men of firm moral fibre who would not need scrutiny themselves.
Judges are accountable to the litigants, the judicial enterprise and the public and thus impartiality, institutional integrity and democratic responsiveness are the governing ideals of a judge. Any conduct on the part of a judge which exhibits the lack of integrity and dignity undermines the trust reposed in the judiciary by the citizens and therefore, the conduct of a judge should be above reproach. It becomes necessary for enacting provisions by which accountability of judges can be ensured without jeopardizing the credibility of the judiciary or corrupting the confidence of the public in it. Keeping this in mind, the Judicial Standards & Accountability Bill has been drafted. This bill is set to replace the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968 and had been in the pipeline for many years. It has been introduced and tabled in the Parliament before as Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2005 and again in 2006 but failed to see the light of the day. As always, the present edition has drawn intense criticism particularly from the judiciary which has portrayed it as a stealth legislation- an offshoot of the rising tendency on the part of the Legislature to usurp the powers of Judiciary in the name of ensuring accountability and an attempt to undermine the judiciary by demolishing the edifice and sanctity of the sacred institution.