Monday, February 25, 2008


Speaker expresses surprise over CJI's reported stand on hearing Teesta Setalvad
Venkitesh Ramakrishnan
Stresses the need for judicial accountability, clear demarcation of roles
New Delhi: Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee expressed surprise over Chief Justice of India K. G. Balakrishnan's reported statement that he would not hear social activist Teesta Setalvad or anybody associated with her. Talking to Hindu The on the eve of the budget session of Parliament, Mr. Chatterjee wondered whether anybody in this country could be denied a hearing in a court of law. He also expressed doubt whether the Chief Justice has been recoded properly or not.
The Speaker observed: "I do not know of any procedure known to law or the Constitution that would allow this [a denial of a hearing before a court of law]. You can dismiss something on merit. You can refuse to admit a petition. But you cannot say that you would not hear X and Y."
The Chief Justice made the remarks pertaining to Ms. Setalvad in the Supreme Court on February 19 while expressing outrage over an article written by the Mumbai-based social activist.
The article titled "Shame, shame: A travesty of justice" criticised the Supreme Court for its handling of the bail applications of 84 persons accused in the criminal case relating to the Godhra calamity of February 2002, which was followed by widespread violence against Muslims in Gujarat. The article was originally published in Mathrubhumi weekly. The Chief Justice referred to the article in court and termed it "shameful." He added: "If she [Ms Setalvad] is representing these persons [the Godhra accused], we do not want to hear them."
The question relating to the remarks of the Chief Justice on Ms. Setalvad came up in the context of the Judges (Inquiry) Bill, 2006, which is expected to be advanced in the forthcoming session of Parliament.
The Bill has the objective of establishing a National Judicial Council (NJC) to conduct inquiries into allegations of incapacity or misbehaviour by High Court and Supreme Court judges. Asked specifically whether it would be enough to give a statutory basis to the existing in-house procedures of inquiry, as visualised in the present Bill or whether outside elements should be involved in the scrutiny of various segments of the judiciary, the Speaker said he had nothing to say about the merits of the Bill since his job entailed him only to pronounce whether a bill had been passed or not.
"However," Mr. Chatterjee added, "as a citizen of this country and as a lawyer who had practised for many decades, it is a matter of agony if there is even a whisper of an allegation against a judicial officer … But the fact is that allegations against judicial officers are becoming a reality. One Chief Justice has said that only 20 per cent of the judges are corrupt. Another judge has lamented that there are no internal procedures to look into the allegations. Therefore, the necessity of a mechanism is being emphasised by the judges themselves. Then the question arises as to how this mechanism would be brought about and as to who would bring it. The fact of the matter is that the judiciary is the only unique institution that has no accountability to the people in a democracy. In this overall context, it is absolutely essential to involve outside elements in the process of judicial accountability."
The Speaker emphasised, in his interview to Hindu The, that an impression was being wrongly given and propagated of a judiciary-versus-parliament situation. "What is this 'versus' business? The legislature has its own area, the judiciary has its own area, and the executive has its own obligations. My only contention is that nobody should assume the role of infallibility. If the legislature is not doing its job, the people will kick us out. It has happened in the past and it has showed that we are a mature democracy."
Judiciary should encourage fair criticism: Pranab
Rakesh Bhatnagar. New Delhi
External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday joined the chorus on judicial delays that has resulted in people taking law into their own hands. He underlined the need for strengthening judicial infrastructure.
Mukherjee kept himself away from the divergent perceptions of president Pratibha Patil and chief justice KG Balakrishnan on judicial delays and its effects on governance. "A constant problem is that of reconciling the conflicting demands of judicial independence and tenure with the demands of accountability and essential levels of judicial competence," said Mukherjee. "In my view, constructive criticism should be encouraged," Mukherjee said in his valedictory address at the all-India seminar on judicial reforms organised by the Confederation of Indian Bar, headed by senior advocate Pravin Parekh here on Sunday.
Mukherjee also sought reducing the gap between high expectations of the people from the judiciary and the dismal achievement in certain areas of dispensation. President Patil's dismay at the dispensation system was influenced by fresh reports on the public lynching of an offender and the CJI said it was due to the deficit in governance.
SC judge Ashok Bhan expressed his displeasure at the misinformation put out by the media about the judiciary. "No body can accuse the judiciary of delays," he said and called upon the government to provide 50 judges for a million population against the existing 1.5 judge ratio. At a similar function two years ago, president APJ Kalam had warned that if longevity of cases continued, people would resort to extra-judicial methods. The then law minister had warned of agitations like the naxalite violence due to judiciary's approach and the then CJI YK Sabharwal had said the justice delivery system has reached its 'nadir'.
legalwoes - More judges won\'t help courts: Speaker
Nagendar Sharma and Satya Prakash
New Delhi
A DAY after President Pratibha Patil slammed the judiciary for huge pendency Lok Sabha , Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has questioned the decision to increase the number of Supreme Court judges, saying it would not solve the problem until the courts did better scrutiny at the time of admitting petitions.
Speaking to a group of re porters, Chatterjee said: "My humble experience is more the number of judges, more would be the arrears. I would prefer quality and determination, not showmanship. Much greater scrutiny is required at the time of admission of cases."
Chatterjee said the decision to increase the number of Supreme Court judges would prove to be counter-productive, as has been seen in high courts and lower courts. He appealed to the judiciary to give priority to cases of public importance.
"How many of the petitions really deserved even admission and how many of the cases would ever be disposed off on merits? I may not be misunderstood for holding the view that mere increase in the number of judges will only result in more pending cases and inevitably more delay," he said.
The Speaker criticised the judiciary for resisting any change in the procedure for appointment of judges and questioned the procedure, saying: "India is perhaps the only country in the world where judges appoint themselves. They have completely taken this power and judiciary is the only institution which has no accountability ."
Chatterjee said it was essential to involve people from outside the judiciary in the appointment of judges.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, was External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's turn to give some advice to the judges.
Addressing a seminar on Judicial Reforms organised by Confederation of Indian Bar, he asked Judges to display functional excellence.
"A judge has to be possessed of excellence not only from within but he should also visibly display the functional excellence, which is necessary to fulfil the constitutional promise of justice by the judiciary as a whole." JUDICIAL DILEMMA ¦ On Saturday, President Pratibha Patil said that pendency in cases was frustrating common people. ¦ She had warned against people taking law into their hands and mobs lynching accused. ¦ Speaker Somnath Chatterjee says judiciary must concentrate on public importance matters. ¦ He slammed judiciary for resisting accountability measures.
Speaker ire on plan for more judges
'Increasing Numbers Won't Do, Quality Of Judges Matters'
Manoj Mitta | TNN
New Delhi. Without mincing words on a plan to increase the strength of the Supreme Court, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said on Sunday: "In my humble experience of 50 years, the more the judges, the more the arrears. I prefer quality to quantity and a greater display of determination rather than showmanship.''
Speaking to a few journalists, Chatterjee said the arrears could be reduced if judges exercised "greater scrutiny'' at the admission stage. He lamented the growing trend of judges admitting petitions "in galore''and the "competitive liberalism'' among them to entertain petitions just to pass interim orders.
In an unusual attack on a bill due to be introduced shortly in Parliament, he said the trend of admitting petitions for the sake of passing stay orders was clear as those matters don't come up for final hearing for years, adding to arrears.
"We hardly discuss the role of the bench and the bar in the proliferation of cases,'' he said, adding, "The test of popularity of a judge seems to be how liberal he or she is in admitting cases and giving interim orders, often without even touching the papers."
Chatterjee also pointed out that the arrears problem was aggravated by the failure of the judiciary to fill up vacancies. Striking a discordant note on the pending judges (inquiry) bill, which seeks to provide a statutory basis to the existing in-house procedure of judicial accountability, he rejected the claim that the involvement of outsiders would compromise the independence of the judiciary. "With all respect to judges, it is essential to involve outsiders. The whole notion of insularity is wrong and it's time this assumption of judicial infallibility is discarded,'' he said.
Chatterjee's view tallies with the recommendation of the standing committee, headed by Congress MP Sudarshan Nachiappan, that eminent members from outside the judiciary should be associated with the selection as well as accountability of judges.
Candid as ever, Chatterjee reacted adversely to CJI K G Balakrishnan's outburst on activist Teesta Setalvad for criticising the SC's delay in hearing the bail pleas of 84 accused in the Godhra case. On the CJI's declaration that he wouldn't hear the plea of anybody associated with Setalvad, Chatterjee wondered, "Can anybody be denied a hearing in the court of law? You can dismiss a case on merits. But how can a judge say he won't hear somebody?"
Refuting reports of a judiciary vs legislature battle, he said that while he did not believe in confrontation, "I respond when there is a deliberate denigration of Parliament."
Concern over CJI's observations
Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Intellectuals, artists and women activists have expressed deep concern over the observations of Chief Justice of India (CJI) K.G. Balakrishnan against human rights activist Teesta Setalvad in open court on February 19.
Not only Ms. Setalvad but thousands all over the country were disturbed and anguished by the inordinate delay in dealing with the cases of victims of Gujarat riots in the Supreme Court, they said in an open letter to the Chief Justice.
Mr. Justice Balakrishnan had taken strong exception to an article written by Ms. Setalvad criticising the apex court for the delay in disposal of the cases.
"You may be aware that the issue of court delay has also been raised in Parliament, in the National Integration Council, and other fora. In this context, to single out for public criticism Teesta Setalvad, a citizen who has crusaded tirelessly for the rights of victims both inside and outside the court at great personal cost, may tend to send a wrong message," the letter said.
"In a democracy, every wing of the State, including the judiciary, needs to have a healthy and robust attitude towards critiques which are not motivated in any sense of the word. Are such remarks, especially without giving an opportunity to a committed activist to be heard befitting of the highest court in the land," the letter said.
The task of ensuring judicial accountability and sensitivity at the highest levels was a heavy responsibility, which ultimately rested on the shoulders of the Chief Justice.
"Since the Supreme Court is the final arbiter, we request that this issue may be examined in the proper context, and we hope for your intervention to ensure that the faith that people have reposed in the judicial system may be vindicated and upheld," the letter said.
The signatories include Brinda Karat, Vina Mazumdar, Jayati Ghosh, Githa Hariharan, Rajni Palriwala, Syeed Mirza, M.K Raina, Indra Chandrashekhar, Rajan Prasad, Virendra Saini, Ram Rehman, Madan Gopal Singh, Madhu Prasad, Urvasi Butalia, Ayesha Kidwai, Hafsa Noomani, Naheed Taban, Rahul Roy, Vineeta Bal, Nirmalangshu Mukherjee, Archana Prasad, Vandana Prasad, T.K. Rajalakshmi, Sudha Sundararaman, Primila Loomba, Kalpana David, Jyotsna Chatterjee and Sughra Mehdi.



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