Seminar on judicial independence held

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New Delhi, Nov 24: A ''right balance'' between judicial accountability and judicial independence has been stressed by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan. ''It is essential,'' Justice Balakrishnan emphasised while opening an International Seminar on Judicial Independence last evening ''that we strike the right balance between the two.'' The CJI noted how immunities provided to ensure judicial independence are intended for the benefit of the litigants in particular and the citizens in general.

''Misuse of these privileges by some has also led to a call for common standards of conduct and better accountability from the judiciary.'' At the same time, Justice Balakrishnan pointed out that ''judicial accountability if stretched too far can seriously harm judicial independence.

''Thus, it is essential that we strike the right balance between the two,'' the CJI told an audience of judges and senior lawyers from India and abroad.

The conference organised by the Confederation of Indian Bar has been supported by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political foundation promoting such causes as rule of law.

Participants in the two day event include the foundation's Singapore-based director Clauspeter Hill, Thai Supreme Court president Viruch Limvichai and European Parliament Member Klaus-Heiner Lehne.

Justice Balakrishnan suggested ''relying on the strong tradition of sharing of ideas and experiences amongst the judiciary across the commonwealth'' as ''perhaps one of the optimum methods of arriving at such a balance.'' The CJI said the society has a right to demand better governance from the judiciary.

''Many citizens now want judges to be accountable as they feel that there are no avenues for them to remedy the minor misbehaviour and maltreatment of witnesses or litigants at the hands of the judges.

''They sometimes feel that these minor misbehaviour and maltreatment are not corrected by superior courts and that the superior courts would protect their own men and it is useless to make complaints.

He said like every other institution dealing with the public, the judicial arm also was accountable, but its accountability ''is different.'' Expectation of independence and impartiality is much higher from the judiciary than any other organ and deciding cases in expeditious and fair manner and giving reasoned orders is another aspect of accountability, he said.

The CJI said judiciary should not feel that adhering to the standards of accountability is inimical to its independence.

He referred to a seven-year-old United Nations initiative to strengthen judicial integrity which led to the formulation of a set of Principles of judicial conduct.

The Bangalore -- where the drafting process began in February 2001-- Principles of Judicial Conduct list six core values of the judiciary: Independence, Impartiality, Integrity, Propriety, Equality and Competence and Diligence.

The Principles were approved and finalised in November 2002 by the Judicial Group on Strengthening Judicial Integrity in collaboration with the Consultative Council of European Judges of the Council of Europe and the American Bar Association, he said.

The principles were presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights in April 2003 and unanimously supported by the member States, he said. A resolution called on governments and multilateral fora to take them into consideration, he told the audience.

He pointed out how in many commonwealth countries judicial accountability has assumed importance and the judiciary ''can no longer use judicial independence as a defence for providing accountability.'' He noted that one method of ensuring judicial accountability was to ensure speedy and relatively transparent method of dealing with complaints against the judiciary.

He said that while in countries such as India where the judiciary is relied upon by the citizenry to solve many of their difficulties, it was the consistent standards of accountability that gave the Indian judiciary this strength.

The moment this judicial accountability wavers, he said, political forces and vested interests would not hesitate to use it as a tool to reduce the credibility of the judiciary.

''We must also recognise that maintaining the highest standards in terms of judicial work and justice delivery is also inherent to the idea of judicial accountability.

''This essentially requires that the judiciary at all levels is not only highly skilled but is also kept abreast with the latest development in the law and practice.

''A judicial officer must also be in constant know of the social and economic reality of his country to ensure that his judgments are practical as well as acceptable to the public.

''At the same time, we need to remind ourselves that perhaps the worst form of injustice in any civilised society is injustice perpetrated through the judicial process.''

UNI

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