Black sheep could be in judiciary too, admits Supreme Court

August 6th, 2008 - 10:22 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 6 (IANS) Admitting there could be “black sheep” in judiciary too, the Supreme Court Wednesday decided to examine if one of its earlier rulings accords immunity to the serving judges of higher judiciary from prosecution for a wrong-doing. “We are not giving the certificate that no judge is corrupt. Black sheep are everywhere. It’s only a question of degree,” observed a bench of Justices B.N. Agrawal, V.S. Sirpurkar and G.S. Singhvi.

The bench made the observation while hearing two lawsuits seeking a high-level probe into the allegation that several retired and sitting judges, including those of higher judiciary, were beneficiaries of fraudulent withdrawal of over Rs.70 million from the Ghaziabad district court’s treasury.

“No doubt, if black sheep are there in the judiciary, they must be brought to book,” the bench said, while acceding to former law minister and senior counsel Shanti Bhushan’s demand for direct police interrogation of even the sitting judges without any intervention by the Supreme Court.

It also decided to examine if its 1991 ruling in a case relating to Justice Veeraswami accords immunity to serving high court and apex court judges from prosecution for an alleged criminal offence committed by them.

The bench initially insisted that the 1991 ruling accorded absolute protection to serving higher judiciary judges from being named in a first information report (FIR), to be lodged by the police to probe a criminal case.

But with Shanti Bhushan arguing that the directions of the Veeraswami case cannot be binding, the bench decided to examine if they are so.

Justice Veeraswami, who retired as chief justice of a high court in 1977, faced a raid by a police team, which had recovered Rs.30 million in cash from him. When asked to explain, Justice Veeraswami said the money was earned by his wife by selling milk of their several domesticated cows.

The apex court in 1991, while adjudicating the appeal of Justice Veeraswami rejected his contention that there was no corruption case made out against him and endorsed his jail term.

But the court also ruled that to protect the judicial independence, no police authority would be allowed to lodge an FIR against any serving judge of the higher judiciary without the permission of the chief justice of India or of the respective high courts.

Shanti Bhushan, however, argued that the ruling was not binding as the court had decided on a question - whether to grant immunity to higher judiciary judges from prosecution to protect the judicial independence - which was never put before it.

Citing several apex court rulings, Shanti Bhushan argued that any ruling by a court on an issue which had never been put before it was not binding.

The bench decided to examine the implications of the Veeraswami ruling and told Bhushan to enlighten it on the case.

It decided to take up the contentious issue for the scrutiny only after Shanti Bhushan told the court that he wanted nothing less than FIR registration even against the serving judges of the higher judiciary, whose names have figured as alleged beneficiaries of the Ghaziabad court treasury fraud.

As the bench observed that allowing police to lodge an FIR against serving judges would impair judicial independence, Shanti Bhusan contended that even the prime minister and the Lok Sabha speaker do not enjoy any immunity against registration of a criminal case against them.

“If that does not compromise their independence, it will not compromise the independence of serving judges either,” he said.

“Judicial independence means judges should have the independence to pass ruling without getting influenced from the state and not the independence to commit a crime or indulge in corruption,” said Shanti Bhushan.

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