Procedure for in-house inquiry into complaints made against a High Court judge

Procedure for in-house inquiry into complaints made against a High Court judge

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What is the procedure for conducting an inquiry against a sitting High Court judge into allegations relating to corruption or sexual harassment or to his acts of omission or commission of not following the accepted values of judicial life? Well, an “in-house procedure” was approved by a Full Court Meeting of the Supreme Court held on 15.12.1999.

Supreme Court of India

It may be pointed out that on the basis of certain observations of the Supreme Court in the case of C. Ravichandran Iyer v. Justice A.M. Bhattacharjee, (1995) 5 SCC 457, the Supreme Court had appointed a committee consisting of three Supreme Court judges, namely, Justice S.C. Agrawal, Justice A.S. Anand, and Justice S.P. Bharucha, and two senior-most Chief Justices of High Courts, namely, Justice P.S. Misra of the Andhra Pradesh High Court and Justice D.P. Mohapatra of the Allahabad High Court, to lay down the “in-house procedure”, for taking suitable remedial action against judges, who by their acts of omission or commission, do not follow the accepted values of judicial life, including the ideals expressed by the Supreme Court in the “Restatement of Values of Judicial Life”.

This committee submitted its report on 31.10.1997. This report was adopted, with certain amendments, in a Full Court Meeting of the Supreme Court held on 15.12.1999. Three different sets of procedure for taking such suitable remedial action against judges were laid down: (i) relating to Judges of the High Courts, (ii) relating to Chief Justices of the High Courts, and (iii) relating to Judges of the Supreme Court.

The “in-house procedure” for taking such suitable remedial action against judges of the High Courts is as under:

“ HIGH COURT JUDGE:

A complaint against a Judge of a High court is received either by the Chief justice of that High Court or by the Chief Justice of India (CJI). Sometimes such a complaint is made to the President of India. The complaints that are received by the President of India are generally forwarded to the CJI. The Committee suggests the following procedure for dealing with such complaints:-

(1) Where the complaint is received against a Judge of a High Court by the Chief Justice of that High Court, he shall examine it. If it is found by him that it is frivolous or directly related to the merits of a substantive decision in a judicial matter or does not involve any serious complaint of misconduct or impropriety, he shall file the complaint and inform the CJI accordingly. If it is found by him that the complaint is of a serious nature involving misconduct or impropriety, he shall ask for the response thereto of the Judge concerned. If on a consideration of the allegations in the complaint in the light of the response of the Judge concerned, the Chief Justice of the High Court is satisfied that no further action is necessary he shall file complaint and inform the CJI accordingly. If the Chief Justice of the High Court is of the opinion that the allegations contained in the complaint need a deeper probe, he shall forward to the CJI the complaint and the response of the Judge concerned along with his comments.

(2) When the complaint is received by the CJI directly or it is forwarded to him by the President of India the CJI will examine it. If it is found by him that it is either frivolous or directly related to the merits of a substantive decision in a judicial matter or does not involve any serious complaint of misconduct or impropriety, he shall file it. In other cases the complaint shall be sent by the CJI to the Chief Justice of the concerned High court for his comments. On the receipt of the complaint from CJI the Chief Justice of the concerned High court shall ask for the response of the judge concerned. If on a consideration of the allegations in the complaint in the light of the response of the Judge concerned the Chief justice of the High Court is satisfied that no further action is necessary or if he is of the opinion that the allegations contained in the complaint need a deeper probe, he shall return the complaint to the CJI along with a statement of the response of the Judge concerned and his comments.

(3) After considering the complaint in the light of the response of the judge concerned and the comments of the Chief justice of the high court, the CJI, if he is of the opinion that a deeper probe is required into the allegations contained in the complaint, shall constitute a three member Committee consisting of two Chief justices of High Courts other than the High Court to which the Judge belongs and one High Court Judge. The said Committee shall hold an inquiry into the allegations contained in the complaint. The inquiry shall be in the nature of a fact finding inquiry wherein the Judge concerned would be entitled to appear and have his say.

But it would not be a formal judicial inquiry involving the examination and cross-examination of witnesses and representation by lawyers.

(4) For conducting the inquiry the Committee shall devise its own procedure consistent with the principles of natural justice.

(5)(i) After such inquiry the Committee may conclude and report to the CJI that (a) there is no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint, or (b) there is sufficient substance in the allegations contained in the complaint and the misconduct disclosed is so serious that it calls for initiation of proceedings for removal of the Judge, or (c) there is substance in the allegations contained in the complaint but the misconduct disclosed is not of such a serious nature as to call for initiation of proceedings for removal of the Judge.

(ii) A copy of the Report shall be furnished to the judge concerned by the Committee.

(6) In a case where the Committee finds that there is no substance in the allegations contained in the complaint, the complaint shall be filed by the CJI.

(7) If the Committee finds that there is substance in the allegations contained in the complaint and misconduct disclosed in the allegations is such that it calls for initiation of proceedings for removal of the Judge, the CJI shall adopt the following course:-

(i) the Judge concerned should be advised to resign his office or seek voluntary retirement;

(ii) In a case the judge expresses his unwillingness to resign or seek voluntary retirement, the chief justice of the concerned High Court should be advised by the CJI not to allocate any judicial work to the judge concerned and the President of India and the Prime Minister shall be intimated that this has been done because allegations against the Judge had been found by the Committee to be so serious as to warrant the initiation of proceedings for removal and the copy of the report of the Committee may be enclosed.

(8) If the Committee finds that there is substance in the allegations but the misconduct disclosed is not so serious as to call for initiation of proceedings for removal of the judge, the CJI shall call the Judge concerned and advise him accordingly and may also direct that the report of the Committee be placed on record.”

It is pertinent to note that in the recent case of Additional District and Sessions Judge ‘X’ vs. Registrar General, High Court of Madhya Pradesh and others [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 792 of 2014], decided on 18 December 2014 by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court (consisting of Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice Arun Mishra), it was observed that the investigative process under the “in-house procedure” takes into consideration the rights of the complainant, and that of the concerned judge, by adopting a fair procedure, to determine the veracity of allegations levelled against a sitting Judge, and that at the same time, it safeguards the integrity of the judicial institution (read this judgment, here).

In that case, the Supreme Court further held that even though the said procedure, should ordinarily be followed in letter and spirit, the Chief Justice of India, would have the authority to mould the same, in the facts and circumstances of a given case, to ensure that the investigative process affords safeguards, against favouritism, prejudice or bias.

It is also noteworthy that the Supreme Court further held that in view of the importance of the “in-house procedure”, it is essential to bring it into public domain. Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed the Registry of the Supreme Court of India to place the “in-house procedure” on the official website of the Supreme Court of India.

It is definitely a welcome direction in the interests of transparency and fairness. Citizens are entitled to know what is the procedure being followed to conduct inquiry and/or to take suitable remedial action as and when some serious allegations are made against a judge of the High Court or of the Supreme Court. This direction to introduce some amount of transparency (in at least the procedure being made known) will definitely help the cause of justice and further strengthen the judiciary.

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