Judiciary’s image takes beating in bribery scandal: experts

August 29th, 2008 - 2:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, Aug 29 (IANS) The bribery scandal involving Punjab and Haryana high court judges, lawyers and property dealers has not only taken the lid off a nexus that has penetrated the legal system, at least in this high court, experts say it has also “diminished the image of judiciary in the eyes of the common person”.The handing over of the high-profile case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) after initial investigations by the Chandigarh police clearly indicates that the scandal is much more serious than it was originally thought to be.

It came to light when a packet containing Rs.1.5 million (Rs.15 lakhs) in cash was delivered “by mistake” at the Sector 11 residence of sitting high court judge Nirmaljit Kaur Aug 13.

After she reported the matter to the police, Haryana’s additional advocate general Sanjiv Bansal was arrested along with three others for their involvement in trying to “bribe” the judge.

Interrogation of Bansal and others revealed that the money was, in fact, meant for another high court judge, Nirmal Yadav. Bansal even told the police that another packet containing Rs.1.5 million was delivered at the official residence of Yadav in Sector 24 later at the behest of Delhi-based hotelier Ravinder Singh.

The controversy has not only divided the judiciary but has split the judiciary and the lawyers as well.

“The cash-for-judge scam has definitely diminished the image of judiciary in the eyes of common person. In any country, there are two options: if the government is strong then the judiciary is weak or if the government is weak then the judiciary is strong. In India the latter condition is prevailing for the last many years,” a former high court chief justice told IANS here on condition of anonymity.

But now, he said, “we do not know what is going on in the judges’ lobby. There is a well-knit nexus of the judges, lawyers and people from other occupations. They are answerable to nobody and many of their unscrupulous activities go unchecked.”

Suggesting ways to make the Indian judiciary accountable, the former senior law officer said: “The appointments of all judges should be made public like it is in various other countries. They should disclose whose names are under consideration and what parameters were followed for the selection. There should be an autonomous judicial accountability commission involving people that represent all the sections of society.”

The Punjab and Haryana high court is also divided on the issue of allowing local lawyers from being elevated and posted as judges in the same high court. Allowing close relatives of judges to practise in the same high court is another contentious issue among the legal fraternity here.

“I have no qualms in saying that this incident has tarnished the image of the judiciary in public life. Now the public should themselves act wisely and avail the option of Right to Information (RTI) Act to know the facts in this matter,” said Harkesh Manuja, secretary bar association of Punjab and Haryana High Court.

“Usually there are supervisory bodies that look into the reasonable functioning of judges and lawyers. Such cases are rare and we have to make a collective effort to avoid such things in future,” added Manuja.

There are others who see a silver lining in the scam being exposed.

“This is a human weakness to accept bribe and can happen anywhere and in any organisation. However, the thing that such unlawful activity was made public and put on trial is worth appreciation. In this case, the authorities concerned have acted very fast,” said P.C. Dogra, former director general of police in Punjab.

“Now our judiciary should send a right message by taking a right decision and putting the culprits behind the bars at the earliest. It will automatically revive the people’s lost faith in the judiciary,” Dogra told IANS.

He suggested that an in-house mechanism be formulated in courts to monitor the functioning of judges and lawyers at regular intervals.

“I am wondering what our government is doing. They should immediately call a special session (of parliament) and impeach the accused party. I consider it an utter failure on the part of our government that such a scam involving high profile public authorities happened in our country,” said Hemant Goswami, chairperson of Chandigarh-based NGO Burning Brain Society.

“The Supreme Court of India should provide full autonomy to the CBI to look into the matter. But it is only the tip of the iceberg. So the Supreme Court should provide links of all the judges to CBI and tell its officials to check the working of judges and law officers throughout the country. Only then can we accept any accountability in their working,” said Goswami.

“Our judiciary cannot escape from the public wrath and criticism due to the cash-for-judge scam. This episode will certainly lower the esteem of judiciary to some extent,” said Lakhwinder Singh Sidhu, a lawyer practising here.

“The enquiry into this case is on and all of us are expecting a speedy result. It is high time for both the judges and the lawyers community to realise their responsibility towards the society,” said Sidhu.

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