Refusal to allow probe into allegations of corruption has brought down the esteem of the judiciary

India's Supreme Court is pictured through a gate in New Delhi

The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms statement on the Supreme Court order dismissing the CJAR petition and imposing unprecedented costs:

The Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) strongly disagrees with the order of the Supreme Court dismissing the Writ Petition filed by the Campaign to ensure a fair and impartial investigation into the allegations of bribery of judges of the higher judiciary, to obtain favourable orders for medical colleges.

To briefly recap the facts: The CBI registered a FIR in the case of Prasad Education Trust based on evidence gathered, of a criminal conspiracy including preparation and planning to pay large sums as bribes to procure a judgement in favour of the medical college, from the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court. As is widely known, the process for granting permission to private medical colleges has been steeped in corruption. In this particular case, the Prasad Education Trust was seeking relief against the decision of the MCI to deny their medical college permission to operate and the decision of the MCI to confiscate the caution money of the trust in view of the flagrant violations of the terms and conditions for operating a medical college. The college was able to secure partial relief in the case.

An investigation by a government controlled agency like the CBI into a case concerning the Judges of the Supreme Court could seriously compromise the independence of the judiciary. In this case, there was particular concern as the matter of the medical college was being heard by a bench headed by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India himself. Therefore, CJAR filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking that such a sensitive investigation should not be left in the hands of a government controlled agency and should be undertaken by a Special Investigative Team headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and monitored by the Supreme Court itself.

CJAR prayed before the court that the petition should be heard by judges other than those who had served on the bench hearing the matter of the medical college. CJAR requested that the petition be dealt with by the five senior most judges of the Supreme Court, excluding the CJI, so that the monitoring of this investigation would be robust and fair, and to ensure that there was no compromise in the integrity of the investigation. This would be also be in keeping with the fundamental principle that no one should be a judge in their own case.

A related matter was filed by Kamini Jaiswal which was referred by the second senior most Judge of the Supreme Court, to a Constitution Bench comprising the 5 senior most judges of the Court. However, the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India intervened and dealt with the petitions on the administrative side as well as the judicial side.

The Code of Conduct formulated in a Conference of all the Chief Justices in the country in 1997 which has been laid down in the ‘Restatement of Values of Judicial Life’, says in the very first code that:

“1. Justice must not merely be done but it must also be seen to be done. 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 the judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court, whether in official or personal capacity, which erodes the credibility of this perception has to be avoided.”

The actions of the Hon’ble Chief Justice in this case clearly violate this salutary Code of Conduct.

The bench comprising of Justice R.K. Agarwal, Justice A. Mishra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar has now passed the order dismissing the CJAR petition by holding it to be mala fide and intended to defame the Supreme Court and the Judiciary and has imposed costs of Rs. 25 lakhs on the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms. As Justice Khanwilkar was also on the bench which heard the medical college case, we believe that he should have recused himself from this bench.

The Campaign for Judicial Accountability And Reforms was set up more than a decade ago and comprises of representatives of many national campaigns and social movements and citizens from all walks of life who have come together to campaign for the accountability of the higher Judiciary and reforms in the judiciary. Contrary to the charge against the campaign that this was a mala fide petition intended to defame the Judiciary, CJAR had approached the court with the intention to protect the independence, integrity and reputation of the Supreme Court and the judiciary in general. CJAR was not making any allegations. It was only seeking a court monitored independent investigation into the issues recorded in the FIR filed by the CBI.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has held that approaching the court to seek a court monitored investigation into serious charges of conspiracy, preparation and planning to bribe the Judges of the Supreme Court in a case before the court, is an attempt to defame the court. The court has also said that this FIR does not involve any judges. We believe that such a statement cannot be made when the FIR clearly states that there was a conspiracy to procure a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court by paying large bribes. Obviously bribes to procure a favourable judgement from the Supreme Court, cannot be paid to any other officials except to the judges themselves. Only an independent investigation could have cleared this allegation.

It has also come to light that the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India has reportedly denied permission to CBI to register an FIR against a sitting judge of the Allahabad High Court allegedly involved in this matter. The reported denial by the Hon’ble Chief Justice of India and the judgement of the Supreme Court in the matter, has in effect ensured that there will be no investigation of sitting judges in this matter.

The Campaign has taken up many cases of judicial corruption and has made several complaints to various Chief Justices under the in-house mechanism, for investigating charges of misconduct against judges. We believe that the unprecedented order imposing costs of Rs. 25 lakh on CJAR is a case of “costs in terrorem” in an attempt to intimidate the Campaign into not taking up cases of judicial misconduct and corruption and deter it from demanding accountability of the judiciary. Further, the order is in violation of the principles of natural justice, as CJAR was not given any notice of the court’s intention to impose costs and further, it was not given an opportunity to contest the decision to impose costs.

The refusal of the court to allow an independent probe into the allegations of corruption (as recorded in the CBI’s FIR) and through its conduct in this case, the Supreme Court has itself brought down the esteem of the judiciary in the public’s eyes – especially those who look up on it as the most important constitutional guardian of the rights of the people against executive and legislative excesses.

However, this order of the Supreme Court and its decision to impose costs of Rs. 25 lakh will not deter CJAR. We will challenge the order and fight it tooth and nail through every legal channel and remedy. In the coming few days, we will be filing a review petition. This judgement is only going to strengthen the Campaign and energise us to carry forward our efforts and campaigns. We will also put forth our demand for an independent probe into the allegations of conspiracy and corruption through all available forums. Since the pronouncement of the judgement, several groups and citizens from all across India have sent in messages of support urging CJAR to carry forward its work.

We believe that the people of this country are the real stakeholders in the institution of the Judiciary and in the judicial system. They are groaning under a system which has enormous problems and requires serious reforms of all kinds including a robust and credible system for investigating complaints against judges and holding them accountable for their misconduct and corruption. The actions of the Supreme Court in this case will now be judged by the people’s court which is the ultimate court in the country.

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Posted in Law

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