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A Sneak Peek Into The Corrupted Indian Judiciary

Corruption in our society is like cancer, which if not detected soon within the time it will surely spread its magnificence among the polity of democracy. To detect corruption has always been a big problem. A non- corrupt judiciary is a fundamental condition for the approval of rule of law and the ability to guarantee basic human rights in society.

The judiciary must therefore be an independent and fair body that fights corruption, not the other way around. Now the question is, are some of the judges bowed to misuse the powers given to them in the temple of justice? Are they under the influence of political leaders and bureaucrats, etc through illegal means because of which the judicial system has become corrupt?

Corruption in the Indian Judiciary

Our Judicial system has been the nation's moral conscience, speaking truth to political power, upholding the rights of citizens, mediating Centre-state conflicts, providing justice to the rich and poor alike, and on several momentous occasions, saving democracy itself. Despite its achievements, a gap between the ideal and reality has been becoming clear over the years.

The justice delivery is slow, the appointment of judges is mired in controversy, disciplinary mechanisms scarcely work, hierarchy rather than merit is preferred, women are severely under-represented, and constitutional matters often languish in the Supreme Court for years. As Justice Chelameswar said in his dissent in the NJAC judgment, the courts must reform, so that they can preserve.

If Indian Judiciary leaves corruption, India might have become a heaven. The Indian cinema has shown us numerous adaptation of rigged judicial verdicts, these depictions don't come merely from an imaginative mind, but clearly shows us how things work under wraps.

Our media's keeps close watch on the political participants but they never point out the corruption in Judiciary or disclose the names of the corrupted judges so the judiciary escapes the purview of the media. Many channels are airing substandard crime investigation programme in order to have cheap media popularity. This will affect the administration of justice.

A judge is supposed to deliver a judgement on the facts as presented before him, but nowadays most of the judges are getting influenced by the debates conducted by medias on crime investigation. It is seen that 70 percent of the judges are media-phobiac and going along with the media fearing public criticism. This is the greatest danger of media trial. The judiciary is not held publically accountable for major verdicts or prolonged court proceedings.

For the first time in India, a sitting High Court judge Honourable Justice C S Karnan was sentenced to six months in prison for making allegations of corruption against Supreme Court judges, in May 2017, after an SC panel held him guilty of contempt of the court. In a more recent instance, the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) made direct allegations of corruption against a sitting judge of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court when it booked Honourable Justice Narain Shukla for receiving illegal gratification for allegedly favouring a medical college in a case. The CBI also named IM Quddusi, a retired judge of the Chhattisgarh High Court, and others in the case.

No one can question the court. There is no provision in the constitution to register a case against a judge who has taken bribe since it is not feasible for a poor man to go and visit the Chief justice of India and then register the FIR. The judges are hardly questioned about nature of justice as he or she does what they deem fit as per their legal knowledge. If an ordinary man questions the court, suddenly a contempt of court will be issued against him while when three judges of the Supreme Court questioned the Chief Justice why wasn't the contempt of court issued against them?

Recently there was a serious allegation of sexual harassment against the former Chief Justice of India, Shri. Ranjan Gogoi, by a staff of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court had taken a suo moto cognisance back and then and a three bench judges which include the same accused Judge Ranjan Gogoi himself conducted a judicial enquiry and closed the enquiry with the report that he is innocent. By this kind of autocracy what kind of message these judges can give to the society?

Instances of corruption and bribery in the lower rungs of judiciary keep getting reported regularly from across the country that only add to an overall negative narrative against the judiciary. For example, in April 2018, three judges of lower courts in Telangana were arrested for possessing assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. Similarly, in Gujarat, two judges of the lower judiciary were arrested for allegedly taking money to settle cases during their posting at Vapi court in 2014. In January 2018, four sitting Supreme Court judges held a news conference to highlight alleged rot that they claimed had set in the judiciary.

Judicial Accountability

Accountability is a position where the person takes responsibility for its actions and performances by either giving reasons for its actions or for avoiding punishment. Accountability only arises when you have a certain responsibility towards someone. A clear example of the judiciary being unaccountable is itself being exempted from the Right to Information Act, 2002 and fog away transparency. This Act was a main legislative change to bring in more transparency and accountability to which the higher judiciary did not comply with.

The Supreme Court in Manohar S/o Manikrao Anchule vs State of Maharashtra & Anr stated that it is undoubted that transparency is important on rather say sine qua non to democracy, and if an authority is made accountable, probability of errors become less.

The protection of Rule of Law in the country has also been assigned to the bold and independent judiciary, for which the judiciary needs to be transparent and constitutionally sound. The judiciary when setting down standards of morality and behaviour for others should also make sure that they follow it on their own.

Appointment of Judges

The appointment of judges is another controversial topic where the judicial is resisting transparency from the longest of times. The appointment of the Supreme Court judges is made by the Chief Justice of India and four other judges on whose recommendations the President appoints the Supreme Court judge. This is where the appointment becomes dubious and all-inclusive. Whereas, on the contrary, the political leaders are not selected but democratically elected.

However there is lack of transparency in this appointment. The qualification for being a judge is a minimum practice of 10 years in the lower court. Only an advocate who appears in the court regularly and conduct civil and criminal cases can know the pulse of the court, prosecutor, witness and accused.

But an advocate who never conducted a case independently and appears as a carrier for the documents and who hide behind their seniors can never manage a court as a judge. This kind of judges who manage to get into the judiciary through reservation quota is a shame to the judiciary and threat to the society.

Such kind of appointments has to be avoided for delivering justice for the poor public. The constitution itself maintains that the judiciary is a singular independent organ. But, what makes the matter worse is this singular independence itself, this is because no one holds the judiciary responsible. Since the judiciary is also the custodian of the Indian constitution, it can declare any law or policy unconstitutional if it is against the basic structure of the constitution.

Allocation of Cases

The sole authority to allocate cases is given to the chief justice of India. The chief justice puts together benches as well as transfers cases whenever he feels like. There is no proper protocol or method or criteria that are followed when it comes to allocating these cases to certain judicial officials. On January 12, 2018, a rebellion against the then chief justice of India Deepak Misra was in news. Justice Chalameshwar, Justice Rajan Gogoi, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph had written to the judge expressing their concerns and asking for an explanation for the allocation of cases. There was hardly any transparency and the judge would allocate the cases as per his preference. This becomes a cause of concern among the judges and it lacked transparency.

Contempt of Court

The contempt of court can be seen as a means to protect the independence of the court, however it is mostly seen that the court has used this as a means of shielding themselves from any criticism. Contempt is defined as any act that is offensive and critical to the dignity and the authority of courts. According to Oswald, contempt of court is so manifold in its aspect that it is difficult to lay down the exact definition of the offence.

Contempt can be classified into two groups:

  • Civil: means wilful disobedience of any, judgment, decree, direction, order or any other processes of court
  • Criminal: means publication of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which scandalizes or tends to lower the authority of any court.

During the British rule, India was not free and democratic, but today the situation has changed. Questions therefore arise as to how can laws of those days be applicable today. There is also problem with the definition, as there is no definition as to what constitutes scandalizing the court as what was regarded scandalous earlier may not be regarded today. The Contempt of Court Act 1952 has also been criticized on the basis that it infringes two important fundamental rights of the citizen, namely, the right to personal liberty and the right to freedom of expression.

Given this allegation one is reminded of two important cases that took place:

  • Arundhati Roy case:

    the problem arose as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court, which ordered the concerned state governments to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam up to 90 ft. This came as a great disappointment to the Narmada Bachao Andolan as it would lead to more submergence of the nearby villages. This was severely criticized and a notice of contempt was served against Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar and advocate Prashant Bhushan. The three however asserted that they were exercising their freedom enshrined in the Constitution. The court held Arundhati Roy guilty and sentenced her to one day imprisonment and a fine of Rs.2000. What was shocking and rather patriarchal was condescendingly referring her as a woman whom they had treated leniently by giving her one day punishment.
  • Mid-Day journalists had published documentary evidences against Justice Sabharwal,

    who passed the orders of sealing commercial properties in residential areas in Delhi, after his sons had got partnership with leading shopping malls. These orders stood for their benefits. Yet no action was taken against him. It was only after the convictions of four Mid-Day journalists for contempt, by Delhi HC, that the news got coverage in the mainstream media29. This shows a fear in the media which has deterred them from investigation against corruption in judiciary. The fact is that this power is like a Damocles sword which hangs over the neck of the people, particularly the media.

Nexus between Judges and Politicians

As it has been known that Executive and Judiciary are interdependent, the basis of an existing nexus between Judges and Politicians is very much possible. Therefore, whenever petitions against the executives are filed, that is straight away heard in the Supreme Court. This provision calls for collusion of the participants of these organs. Another notable factor is that the ruling party that made the government gave a Rajya Sabha ticket to the ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi out of the blue. This also tells about the ideological and favour-based nexus that the politicians and judges share. A large number of crime suspects run for MLA's and MP's to make themselves politically strong so that they influence the Judiciary and to some extent, they succeed too.

History of Judicial corruption and scandals in India

  • Mr. Justice Sinha:

    Only Judge impeached; In 1949, justice S.P. Sinha of Allahabad High Court was removed under the Government of India Act, 1935, just on the basis of his judgment. That's the only instance of the removal of a judge in India
  • Ajit Sengupta:

    In 1996 the Calcutta High Court judge made it a routine to issue ex parte, ad interim stay orders on anticipatory bail pleas from smugglers having links with the Mumbai underworld. He was arrested in 1996 for FERA violations after retirement.
  • A.M. Ahmad:

    When he was Chief Justice of India (October 1994-March 1997), his daughter, a lawyer in the Delhi High Court, caused eyebrows to be raised for getting "special" treatment from certain judges. When some members of the bar sought a resolution banning lawyer relatives of judges from staying in the same house, the CJ I got members to defeat the motion.
  • Cash-for-job:

    Three judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court sought the help of disgraced PPSC chief R.P. Sidhu to ensure that their daughters and other kin topped examinations conducted by the commission. Judges were M.L. Singh, Mehtab Singh Gill & Amarbir Singh Status in this case: Two inquiry panels indicted the judges. Gill and Amarbir Singh have resigned M.L. Singh continues, though no work is allotted to him
  • Three Judges Mysore Sex Scandal alleged:

    On Sunday, November 3, 2002, three judges of the Karnataka High Court, along with two women advocates, allegedly got involved in a brawl with a woman guest at a resort. The police arrived but reportedly didn't take action. Judges are N.S. Veerabhadraiah V. Gopalagowda & Chandrashekaraiah. Status in this case: The three-judge inquiry committee appointed by the CJI filed its report. Gave clean chit.
  • Justice Karnan case:

    In March 2017 Supreme Court, in a rare move, has initiated contempt proceedings against Justice C S Karnan, a sitting judge of the Calcutta High Court, and has restrained him from hearing cases. Contempt proceedings were initiated because he had levelled allegations of corruption against several judges of the Supreme Court and high courts without substantiating his claim with any evidence. He had written letters to the chief justice of India and even to the Prime Minister with a series of allegations against 20 high court judges. He also alleged that illegal money was recovered from some high court judges after the government announced demonetization.
  • Justice A.K. Ganguly:

    Sexual harassment case, Sexual assault case intern harassment case, Supreme Court, West Bengal Human Rights Commission, crime against women, sexual harassment at workplace: Stella James, who graduated from NUJS Kolkata and works at the NGO Natural Justice, Lawyers for Communities and the Environment, wrote about an alleged incident of physical, sexual assault by an unnamed, retired Supreme Court judge in late 2012. In a post that was published on the blog of the NUJS Journal of Indian Law and Society on 6 November, she wrote about trying to come to terms with her experience of 24 December 2012, Christmas Eve, ironically against the backdrop of the then ongoing Delhi gang rape protests.: Ganguly gets Centre's clean chit in intern case: Justice (retd) Asok Kumar Ganguly: The ministry of home affairs (MHA) has cleared the air about Justice (retd) Asok Kumar Ganguly, saying there is no case against him. It has referred to the Delhi Police's feedback that there isn't adequate evidence to lodge an FIR against Justice Ganguly and no probe is on against him.

It is impossible to find one common factor of judicial corruption; it seems like the causes are many and over-lapping. Even so, it is crucial to identify the individual factors in the states before developing and implementing actual reforms. The effects of judicial corruption are many and detrimental for the core of rule of law and fundamental principles, e.g. equality, impartiality, integrity and propriety. A central issue is that systemized corruption is very beneficial for everyone involved.

The harms are not always visible, but judicial corruption contaminates the fairness of the judicial system indirectly and it destroys the very purpose of the judiciary; to uphold justice. The ones without sufficient resources to be a part of corruption, loses the protection that the judiciary is supposed to secure.

Some of the most salient internationally supported strategies to eliminate judicial corruption include preventive measures, such as education, increase of transparency in the court processes, fair working conditions for judges and court personnel, public information campaigns about corruption, and implementation of anti-corruption norms and standards in the national systems. Such strategies build a solid foundation for a healthy judiciary and they are not very controversial with regard to judicial independence.

In some cases, these strategies are not enough to rid the judicial system from corrupt behaviour and other measures must be applied in order to achieve a non-corrupt judiciary. Such measures include reorganization of the judicial system, removal and reappointment of judges and court personnel, and establishment of an independent auditing body for judicial revision. These measures inevitably interfere with the principle of judicial independence and must therefore be carefully considered. The decision must be based on a balancing of possible consequences when interfering with judicial independence to achieve the goal; a fair judiciary.

  • Corruption in Indian Judiciary-Yashveer Singh, World Wide Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development
  • Corruption Widespread in India, US report says available
  • Orebro University, Legal Science Programme with International Approach Spring 2010- Corruption in the Judiciary. Amelie Arvidsson, Emelie Folkesson.
  • (Transparency and Accountability in the Indian Judicial System, 2019)
  • (Corruption in Indian Judiciary-Time for action, 2017)

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Sandra Santhosh
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