Judicial Accountability Principles and Standards

For any objective assessment of Judges’ Accountability, one must be clear about the principles and standards against which the performance is to be assesses. To whom is he accountable? What is the machinery to enforce accountability against erring judges of superior courts? 

It is said that the very nature of Judicial Process ensures accountability of judges. Court proceedings are held in public. Judges have to give reason for their orders and judgements. Judgements may be appealed against and corrected by the appellate court. It is open to the public to criticize judgements and contend that they are wrongly decided. Litigants can demand the recusal of judges if they reasonably suspect bias on their part or can seek transfer of hearing to another bench. Advocates on opposite sides constantly oversee judicial conduct and oppose improprieties, if any, in the conduct of proceedings. All these are built in safeguards intended to ensure accountability in terms of fairness and impartiality in administration of justice. 

Accountability for all branches of government is the hall mark of rule of law and therefore judiciary no doubt, has to be accountable. But unlike politicians and legislators, judges cannot be accountable to the electorate. Their accountability can only be to the law of the land to their own judicial conscience. The question is on what principles and standards are they to be tested if doubts arise. These principles and standards naturally have to be for above the ordinary in view of the enormous power judges enjoy to sit on judgement on life and property and over other wings of government. The standards, therefore, must be such as to attract complete public confidence on the impartiality and independence of the judiciary. 

The independence of judiciary which the Indian Constitution enjoins in full measure allows a unique procedure in appointments, guarantees tenure and service benefits, and gives certain privileges and immunities to judges while in office. They are needed for efficient discharge of responsibilities and shall not be diluted in the name of accountability. If this is to be the case, judges themselves have to set the standards and ensure their scrupulous observance by self-discipline and internal arrangements. An attempt was made in this regard by the Conference of Chief Justices in 1996 which resulted in a Code of Conduct being adopted by Full Court Meeting of the Supreme Court under the title “Restatement of Values of Judicial Life”. The sixteen point-charter states as follows :- 

1) The behaviour and conduct of members of the higher judiciary must reaffirm the People’s faith in the impartiality of the judiciary. Accordingly any act of a judge whether in official or personal capacity, which erodes the credibility of this perception has to be avoided. 

2) A judge should not contest the election to any office of a club or society and he shall not hold such elective office except in a society connected with the law. 

3) Close association with individual members of the Bar, particularly those who practise in the same court shall be eschewed. 

4) A judge should not permit any member of his immediate family, such as spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law or daughter-in-law or any other close relative, if a member of the Bar, to appear before him or even be associated in any manner with a cause to be dealt with by him. 

5) No member of his family, who is a member of the Bar, shall be permitted to use the residence in which the judge actually resides or other facilities for professional work. 

6) A judge should practice a degree of aloofness consistent with the dignity of his office. 

7) A judge shall not hear and decide a matter in which a member of his family, a close relation or a friend is concerned. 

8) A judge shall not enter into public debate or express his views in public on political matters or on matters that are pending or likely to arise for judicial determination. 

9) A judge is expected to let his judgements speak for themselves; he shall not give interviews to the media. 

10) A judge shall not accept gifts or hospitality except from his family, close relations and friends. 

11) A judge shall not hear and decide a matter in which a company in which he holds shares is concerned unless he has disclosed his interest and no objection to his hearing and deciding the matter is raised. 

12) A judge shall not speculate in shares, stocks or the like. 

13) A judge should not engage directly or indirectly in trade or business, either by himself or in association with any other person. 

14) A judge should not ask for, accept contributions or otherwise actively associate himself with the raising of any fund for any purpose. 

15) A judge should not seek any financial benefit in the form of a perquisite or privilege attached to his office unless it is clearly available. 

16) Every judge must at all times be conscious that he is under the public gaze and there should be not act or omission by him which is unbecoming of the high office he occupies and the public esteem in which that office is held.


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