The inception of the Indian Constitution laid the separation of power between the legislature, executive and judicial authorities. The legislature and the executive authority are the focused bodies in terms of accountability and transparency, and the judiciary is considered the driving force of justice. In a democratic country, such as India, where all three organs play their part together and separately, the judiciary should not be ruled out because the Indian judiciary acts as a guardian and protector of the fundamental rights of the people. The ordinary man puts his great faith in the legal system for his injured legal and moral rights. But because of the abuse of power and corruption people are losing faith in the system.
In the last two decades the judiciary, which until now has been looked upon as the strongest pillar of Indian democracy, has been plagued with unprecedented problems. The working of the judges of the superior courts (High Courts and the Supreme Court) has come in for intense scrutiny and major doubts have been cast against the conduct of some judges.
Corruption at different levels of Judiciary
Corruption at the lower level
India’s judicial corruption is cancer that starts at the lower levels and moves upwards. Having 600 district courts and hundreds of subordinate courts, the heterogeneous lower judiciary acts as the primary interface between the Indian judiciary and its ordinary citizens. In 2013, 36% of citizens reported that they paid bribes for the judiciary, a sad reality validated by many senior judges. A 2007 survey of disbursements revealed that 59% of respondents paid bribes to lawyers, 5% to judges and 30% to judges for quick and favorable reviews. The pendency of cases, collusion between lawyers of both sides, manipulation of an opaque justice system by court officials, and the political influence in appointments of lower judges have created a poisonous legal system at the lower levels.
Corruption in higher courts
The omnipresence of corruption in the lower courts is closely linked to another problem. In a judicial system like India, where higher judges are chosen from the ranges of lower judges and lawyers, there is always the possibility that corrupt judges reach the higher courts. This is especially the case when seniority becomes the primary ‘de facto’ criterion for promotion. Once judges have been appointed to higher courts, they can use their extensive “contempt of the court” to suppress allegations of corruption. Indeed, the use by the Indian judiciary of contempt of lawsuits against its opponents is often said to suppress the voice on what should be considered as judicial corruption. For example, those who accused the former CJI of corruption fight against contempt of court proceedings.
Factors leading to corruption
Troublesome impeachment procedures: Even when there is overwhelming evidence against corrupt judges, a cumbersome impeachment process prevents their removal. It is therefore not difficult to see why the country has so far not seen any successful judicial prosecution. Since independence, only three judges have ever suffered from impeachment, all three because of the obscurity of public funds or the gathering of disproportionate wealth. Of these three, in one the impeachment movement failed, and in the other two, the judges resigned before the motion could proceed.
Excessive delay: India has the world’s biggest backlog of cases, almost 30 million. The time between submission and final decision may in extreme cases be up to 20 years in civil matters and 30 years in criminal matters. Weak infrastructure, chronic legal jobs, manual processes, a weak law and order enforcement system, long-term processes and delayed reviews have made an important contribution to corruption at all levels of the judiciary. Being aware of the chronic delays, citizens feel forced to pay bribe at all stages to speed up the process. The worst part being, the chances of unlawful gain caused by the delays create perverse incentives to keep the legal system ineffective.
Where to file a complaint against a judge?
|Against whom||Whom to complaint|
|Subordinate judiciary||Send to Registrar (vigilance), District administrative judge|
|High Court judges||Chief Justice of the High Court|
|Supreme Court judges||Chief Justice of India|
|Chief Justice of the High Court||Chief Justice of India|
Department of Justice (DOJ) receives large numbers of grievances of citizens through the online CPGRAMS portal and on e.mail of the officials. DoJ also receives grievances through the Secretariat of the President / PMO / Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grieves / other ministries/departments and also directly. The grievances related to the judiciary are dealt with within the Department of Justice and the grievances related to other departments/ministries/government governments / UTs are sent to the relevant offices.
The following guidelines regarding the disposal of grievances in the Department of Justice are communicated for information/guidance/benefit of victims:
- Grievances related to the judiciary are sent to the Secretary-General High Court of India / Registrar-General of the relevant Supreme Court for further action.
- Any grievance related to judgments of the courts is not treated as a complaint. Such suspects are advised to seek appropriate remedies in the appropriate court according to the rules.
- Grievances relating to court proceedings or matters of purely legal nature can only be resolved by the Court of Justice. Such grievances will be filed in the Department of Justice.
- Grievances related to Judges of the Supreme Court are sent to the Chief Justice of India and grievances related to Judges of the High Courts are sent to the chief justice of the relevant High Courts for appropriate action. (Since the judiciary is independent, the government does not ask for action done or send reminders to them.
- Disposal of a pending case in court is within the domain of the judiciary, which is an independent body of state under the Constitution of India. The government of India does not interfere with the functioning of the judiciary/proceedings in courts since the attachment of a court case is a decision being considered by the court.
- In case of any grievance related to unnecessary delay in a sentence or unfair judgment or miscarriage of justice, the petitioner is advised to give a legal aid by appeal or any other proceedings before the applicable court within the prescribed time limit.
- According to the guidelines of the Supreme Court of India relating to grievances/complaints against members of the subordinate judiciary, it is explained that such grievances are accompanied by a proper affidavit and verifiable material to substantiate the allegations made therein. Such grievances, together with the affidavit, must be sent directly to the Registrar-General of the High Court concerned.
The Veeraswamy case
The additional immunity with which the judges have cloaked themselves were in the Justice R. Veeraswamy case, which states that judges of SC or HC may not be subject to investigation in any criminal offense of corruption, or an FIR is registered against them without the prior permission of the CJI. Again, it is unlikely that the CJI will allow such permission as it can bring the Judiciary sick.
According to this act, for a motion to remove a judge 100 members of the Lower House or 50 members of the First Chamber must submit a signed complaint which is then examined by a committee of three members consisting of two judges and a lawyer. Then the committee should frame charges on the basis of which investigation is done. If the judge is unable to discharge his duties due to any physical or mental incapacity the committee arranges for a medical examination.
A chance is also given to the judge to file his defence. If approved, the issue will be discussed in both Houses and must be completed within a single session, otherwise the whole process should restart in the next session.
According to Clause (4) of Article 124 “, A Judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from office except by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of the House present and voting has been presented to the President in the same session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.” By virtue of Article 218, Article 124 (4) applies to the judges of the High Courts also.
Drawback of Judges Inquiry Act, 1968
The word misbehaviour used in Art. 124(4) embraces within its facts of misconduct. Guarantee of tenure to a judge and its protection by the Constitution does not mean giving sanctity for corruption or grave misbehaviour. Judiciary survives on public confidence. Misbehaviour, whether it is on or off the bench, undermines public confidence in the delivery of justice. The ambiguity on the word has helped corrupt judges walk away free.
Complaint against Advocates
In case an advocate does any misconduct or enters into corruption practices and other irregularities than a complaint can be filed against him in the Bar Council of which he is a member. The Bar Council shall then investigate the matter and if a State Bar Council has reason to believe that any advocate on its roll has been guilty of professional or other misconduct, it shall refer the case for disposal to its disciplinary committee.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010
This bill was introduced in parliament to bring accountability and transparency and set the standard for the higher court. The current bill replaces the Judicial Inquiry Act, 1968. The judiciary claims that any out-of-court body with disciplinary power over them, which endangers their independence so that they have investigated an internal corruption mechanism, has been proposed by the Judicial Investigation Act, 2006. The main purpose of this bill is to form a mechanism that will investigate the acts of misconduct and disqualification of the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. This bill is yet to be passed.
The main features of this bill are :
- To lay down judicial standards and to provide for accountability of the Judges
- To establish a credible and expedient mechanism for investigating individual complaints about misbehaviour or incapacity of a Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court.
- To regulate the procedure for such an investigation.
- For providing the presentation of an address by the Parliament to the President of India for removal of a Judge.
- To provide for connected or incidental matters.
The National Judicial Commission (NJC)
Growing dissatisfaction with the failure of the internal mechanism, it has been rightly found that an Independent mechanism like the NJC will help to achieve much-needed accountability. The Proposal for an NJC was made by the 80th Report of the Legal Commission of India and the 121st Report of the Legal Commission of India.
The main task of the judiciary is to dispense speedy justice and bring relief to the litigant. It is through this way that public trust can be maintained. But instead of criticizing the judicial independence, we must focus on the steps taken to reform the judiciary. The implementation of NJC and The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 could be the reforms that are judiciary needs. The guiding principle should always be accountability, but let it always be commensurate with judicial independence and impartiality. Ultimately, the appropriate balance between competing principles is needed to be built.
Lack of conviction among the legislators can be partly be blamed for corrupt judges walking away with impunity. Lack of clear guidelines as to what constitutes is behavior will take the other share. It is not wrong to say that the degree of respect and public trust enjoyed by the SC cannot be matched by any other institution in the country. This trust can only be maintained when the judiciary constantly lives up to the expectations of the citizens.