Enforcement of the Code of Conduct : Discretionary or Mandatory ?

One may question the utility of the Code of Conduct and in-house investigating procedure which have no binding value in the sense that no judge can be made accountable to its precepts if he is not inclined to obey them and no sanction ensures for its violation. Of late, several instances of alleged violation of the Code by judges have been reported in the media. In some cases some in-house inquiries are reportedly conducted about which the public has no way to know as they are never made public. Since the head of the judiciary has no power to discipline erring judges excepting to seek their impeachment, such in-house inquiries seldom serve any purpose. 

In a recent case of criminal misappropriation by a Calcutta High Court Judge who has been found guilty by the in-house proceeding, the Chief Justice of India could only write to the President for impeachment. Nothing happened even after six months and the judge is merrily collecting his salary without rendering any service. A similar case came to notice several years ago, again without anything happening to the judge concerned. It is not clear why the Chief Justice could not have directed the Registrar of the Court to file an FIR with the Police on the basis of the available evidence against the Calcutta High Court Judge. 

The idea of independence of judges should not be read as impunity against crimes committed. Even when FIR is filed, for the police to be able to interrogate the sitting judges, as the law stands today, permission of Chief Justice id necessary which, if withheld, makes it difficult to bring delinquent judges to be accountable to the ordinary law of the country. This is obviously an unacceptable situation not intended by the Constitution nor desirable to preserve the independence of the judiciary. 

The issue that is being litigated by the Supreme Court in the Delhi High Court for setting aside the order of the Chief Information Commission asking the Chief Justice to disclose the asset declaration of Superior Court judges available with him is again a matter likely to shake the confidence of the public in judicial integrity and independence. 

The irony of it is that non-disclosure is allegedly advanced or canvassed in the name of independence of judiciary! The argument that there is no law which requires judges’ assets to be disclosed further weakens the defence in the context of the self-declared Code of Conduct and the requirement of disclosure of assets on the part of lesser mortals including subordinate court judges. It is hoped that the Delhi High Court will dismiss the Supreme Court claim and save the judiciary from suicidal tendencies.


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