The Ex-chief Justice of India (CJI), KN Singh, must be applauded for his candid admission that Indian judiciary is not free from corruption. Despite impressive achievement in technology and science in the recent years, independent international studies have shown that India is still one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Although the Supreme Court of India has been able to maintain a high standard before the international legal community, like most other areas of public services, corruption has also plagued the judicial system in India in the recent time. However, Justice Singh was not the only CJI to admit that corruption has infiltrated in Indian judiciary. Another retired CJI, SP Barucha, also confessed recently that about 20 percent of judges in India are corrupt. One should not view these honest admissions by previous Chief Justices only with a negative notion. The first step of solving any problem is to admit frankly that the problem exists. One can only hope that since ex-Chief Justices of the country have openly admitted corruption in the judiciary, the Indian government would take meaningful steps to rectify the legal system which forms the backbone for development of any nation.
The recent saga of Karnataka’s Chief Justice, PB Dinakaran’s selection to the Supreme Court has brought ignominy to the Indian judicial system whether or not he eventually gets a seat in the highest court of the land. Serious charges were raised against Justice Dinakaran that he has amassed excessive assets during his tenure as a judge in the lower courts. Obviously, these allegations insinuate that Justice Dinakaran has abused his position as a judge to accumulate disproportionate amount of wealth. It is important to remember that the clamor against selection of justice Dinakaran to the Apex Court was raised not only by the bar association in Bangalore but also by eminent jurists like Ram Jethmalani and Shanti Bhushan. For the time being, the Supreme Court collegiums have put Justice Dinakaran’s appointment to the Apex Court on hold in order to review the report on his personal assets. The stance recently taken by Supreme Court and the chief justice of India (CJI) that judges’ assets should not be declared under the RTI Act has already created a negative public opinion about our legal system. Even if the Supreme Court collegiums ultimately decide to uphold Justice Dinakaran’s nomination, the tarnished image of the judiciary that resulted from the present fiasco is not likely to revert back in the minds of the ordinary people. Justice should not only be done, it must also appear to be done.
Elevating Justice Dinakaran to the Supreme Court at this stage in order to affirm that the Apex Court collegiums made a right choice cannot appear as justice for the pubic at large.
In an unprecedented move, lawyers in Karnataka boycotted work to protest the promotion of Justice Dinakaran to the Supreme Court. There can be hardly any reason for all advocates to raise such a strong opposition against the sitting chief justice of a high court unless there is stout evidence of impropriety against the judge. Like all accused persons, Justice Dinakaran has denied all allegations and claimed that the he possessed the excessive assets only because he hails from a wealthy family. There must be many judges across India who have inherited wealth from a rich family. In the eyes of an impartial outsider, there can be no reason for the members of the legal community to bring a serious charge of corruption against a judge simply of his affluence. Moreover, it should be easy to establish assets inherited legitimately from wealthy ancestors. It is difficult to image how the situation for Justice Dinakaran could come this far if he gathered all the wealth only through his loaded family.
The most puzzling aspect in this sordid episode is that how the CJI and Apex Court collegiums were not aware of the allegation of excessive wealth of Justice Dinakaran which was a common knowledge to the entire bar association in Bangalore and other eminent jurists. Or is it that the Supreme Court collegiums were conversant with these allegations against Justice Dinakaran but chose to nominate him for the Apex Court anyway? The stance of the Union Law Minister, Veerappa Moily, in this regard is equally deplorable. Even after the advocates sought his intervention in this serious issue, like a seasoned political leader, he has chosen to wash his hands of this controversy. There is little doubt that the process of selection of judges in India is inherently flawed. Even for the Supreme Court in India, judges are selected by a handful people without any public hearing.
In the US, while the Supreme Court justices are nominated by the President, he/she has to go through rigorous questioning in public by both Houses of Congress. Many candidates for the US Supreme Court have been rejected after failing to pass the cross-examination by the members of the Congress or Senate. India should adopt a similar policy for appointment of judges because only through a rigorous public examination under oath, the real character of a nominated person may be truly evaluated. Public has every right to demand that people only of the highest moral character and integrity are appointed as a judge in the courtroom. The process of selection of CJI is also flawed because it is based solely on the seniority.
The most competent person can never become the CJI unless he was appointed at the right time in the Supreme Court. On the other hand, a judge who might not have the base quality could become the CJI if he received the nod to become a Supreme Court justice at the right time. Justice Mr. John Roberts, appointed in the US Supreme Court only a few years ago by then president George W. Bush, was nominated as the chief justice even though several other justices far senior to him are present still in the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice should be decided on merit alone and not on the number of years in the job.
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