Judicial Reforms

[op-ed snap] It’s about benchmarks

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Challenges to Judicial functioning

Context

  • Justice Arun Kumar Mishra has refused to recuse himself from the Constitution Bench that has to re-examine a controversial judgment that he delivered last year.

Background

  • In 2014, a three-judge bench led by then CJI R M Lodha held in the Pune Municipal Corporation case that compensation under the Land Acquisition Act had to be deposited in the Court.
  • It ruled that a mere deposit of money in the government treasury cannot be regarded as payment made to landowners and the acquisition would lapse.
  • In 2018, another three-judge bench overruled this verdict in the Indore Development Authority case.

Setting aside a verdict

  • This verdict in the Indore Development Authority case did not satisfy the apex court’s criteria for setting aside a verdict.
  • In the Dawoodi Bohra Community case in 2005, the court had said that a verdict can be overruled only by a bench of larger strength.
  • In 2018, another case on land acquisition compensation came up before a SC bench. This bench put a stay on all such cases till the anomalies in the Indore Development Authority case were referred to the CJI.

Recusals

  • There have been other recusal refusals. CJI Gogoi refused to recuse himself in the Assam Detention Centre case. He observed that the inability, difficulty or handicap of a judge to hear a particular matter is to be perceived by the judge himself and no one else.
  • The law on recusal was laid down by Justice M N Venkatachaliah in Ranjit Thakur where he observed that the proper approach for the judge is not to look at his own mind and ask himself, ‘am I biased’; but to look to the mind of party before him”.
  • A judge should ideally recuse from a proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned due to the possibility of personal bias or prejudice or if he has been a lawyer or judge in the matter at some stage.
  • The decision of recusal should be made by the judge as per the dictates of his conscience. But ideally, when a judge recuses himself, he should state the reasons for his decision.
  • A recusal should not become a convenient method to get rid of a judge.
  • Bench hunting must not be permitted through recusal requests and such requests should not be used to intimidate a judge.
  • In the R K Anand case (2009), the Supreme Court said that “a motivated application for recusal needs to be dealt with sternly and should be viewed as interference in the due course of justice leading to penal consequences”.

Way ahead

  • The judicial system should consider changing the system of hearing recusal requests.
  • Ideally, such a request should not be heard by the bench but only by the judge concerned.
  • In the Jewell Ridge Coal Corporation case (1945), the US Supreme Court held that it is the responsibility of the judge in question to hear such a request.
  • In 2014, Justice Antonin Scalia of the US Supreme Court heard the requests for his recusal in in a case pertaining to the country’s Vice President Dick Cheney.
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