Bringing Judges to Justice

Parliament is likely to take up the motion for removal of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta high court next week. The other motion related to Justice Dinakaran will likely be irrelevant if his resignation is accepted. What are processes and issues related to the impeachment of judges?

The process has to tread a fine balance between the independence of judges and their accountability. It is important that judges are free of any pressures that can affect their freedom to deliver fair justice. And so, the judges of the higher courts — the Supreme Court and high courts — are assured of their term of office and their salaries and emoluments cannot be reduced. The only action that can be taken by a non-judicial body is their removal through a motion in Parliament.

The process of removal is specified by the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968. The process starts with a motion signed by either 50 members of the Rajya Sabha or 100 members of the Lok Sabha regarding the misbehaviour of the judge. The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha or Speaker of the Lok Sabha then forms an investigation committee consisting of three members: a Supreme Court judge, a high court chief justice, and an eminent jurist. This committee will frame charges of misbehaviour, and give an opportunity to present a written statement of defence. The judge shall also be given the opportunity to cross examine witnesses, and defending himself. The committee shall, then, present its findings to the Chairman or Speaker.