The issue of judges declaring their assets assumes importance in light of recent allegations and inquiries into allegations of wrongdoing by judges (read our post on the report of the Committee set up to examine allegations of wrongdoing by Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court). The Delhi High Court also gave a judgement recently, requiring judges of the Supreme Court to declare their assets. The Bill on judicial accountability (read summary here) requires judges to declare their assets to a specified authority within 30 days of them taking their oath of office. The assets of spouses and dependents is also required to be disclosed. The Bill also states that the assets declared will be put up on the website of the relevant court.
The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 1, 2010. The Bill was introduced by the Shri M. Veerappa Moily, the Minister of Law and Justice. The Bill seeks to (a) lay down judicial standards, (b) provide for the accountability of judges, and (c) establish mechanisms for investigating individual complaints for misbehaviour or incapacity of a judge of the Supreme Court or High Courts. It also provides a mechanism for the removal of judges. Find the main features of the Bill explained here.
On December 1, 2010, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The Bill revamps the present system of inquiry into complaints against judges. The case of Justice Sen was the one of the more recent instances where the integrity of judges has been called into question.
A motion was moved by 58 members of the Rajya Sabha for the removal of Justice Soumitra Sen, (a Judge of the Calcutta High Court) on grounds of misappropriation of funds. The Chairman, Rajya Sabha constituted an Inquiry Committee on March 20, 2009 to look into the matter. The Committee comprising Hon’ble Justice B. Sudershan Reddy (Chairman), Hon’ble Justice T.S.Thakur and Shri Fali S. Nariman submitted its report on September 10, 2010.
Charges framed in the Motion
The two charges which led to an investigation into alleged misconduct of Justice Soumitra Sen were:
- Misappropriation of large sums of money, which he had received in his capacity as Receiver appointed by the High Court of Calcutta; and
- Misrepresentation of facts with regard to the misappropriation of money before the High Court of Calcutta
General observations of the Committee on the case:
- Justice Sen’s assertion that he had the right to remain silent during the investigations was fallacious.
- He did not cooperate with the Court proceedings; was not present for hearings, did not furnish information requested by the Court and did not provide any evidence in his defence.
Facts and Findings of the investigation by the Committee:
a. During the period he was an Advocate:
- Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed Receiver in a case by an order of the Calcutta High Court on April 30, 1984. A Receiver appointed by the High Court has the power to collect outstanding debts and claims due in respect of certain goods.
- As required by the High Court, the Receiver should file and submit for passing, his half yearly accounts in the Office of the Registrar of the High Court. However, Justice Sen did not comply with this rule both as an Advocate and a Judge.
- The High Court requires the Receiver to open only one account and not move funds without prior permission. However, the Committee found that two separate accounts were opened by Justice Soumitra Sen as Receiver, with ANZ Grindlays Bank and Allahabad Bank.
- A total sum of Rs 33,22,800 was transferred in these accounts from the sale of proceeds of the goods which was not accounted for either when Justice Sen was an Advocate or when he was made a High Court Judge.
- Justice Sen claimed he could not account for this amount since it was invested in a company called Lynx India Ltd. to earn interest. The Committee found this claim to be false as well.
- The Committee concluded that this was a case of misappropriation of funds as both of the Receiver’s bank accounts were closed with a nil balance without any investments being made on behalf of the High Court.
b. During the period he was a Judge:
- Justice Soumitra Sen was appointed a High Court Judge on December 3, 2003. The committee noted that Justice Sen’s actions were, “an attempt to cover up the large-scale defalcations of Receiver’s funds”.
- After he became a Judge he did not seek any permission from the Court for approval of the dealings, as required by the Court, nor did he account for the funds.
Based on the findings on the two charges the Inquiry Committee was of the opinion that Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court is guilty of “misbehaviour”.