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Corruption in higher judiciary is real: Negating rot-within and focusing on individuals will not help Justice Kurian Joseph's cause

Do the high courts of respective states constitute an integral part of higher judiciary? If yes, the assertion by the former Supreme Court judge Kurian Joseph that allegations of corruption in higher judiciary is unfounded, comes as a surprise.

In an interview, Justice Joseph — who retired on 30 November said, "I will never really agree that there's corruption in higher judiciary. If it is in the lower judiciary, it is the state's concern. In the higher judiciary, it has not come to my notice."

Justice Joseph was part of the group of four Supreme Court judges, who on 12 January, 2018 held a press conference and accused the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra of assigning important cases to select few judges and raised serious doubts on the functioning of Supreme Court under his leadership.

Speaking to The Times of India, Joseph also said, "CJI Dipak Misra was being controlled from outside and was allocating cases to judges with political bias." While the allegations made by him are debatable, what surprises the most is Joseph's ignorance who is well aware of external forces controlling Misra and the the corruption in higher judiciary.

 Corruption in higher judiciary is real: Negating rot-within and focusing on individuals will not help Justice Kurian Josephs cause

File image of Justice Kurian Joseph. Image courtesy: News18/SupremeCourt

In an article published in The Asian Age in 2007, Justice VR Krishna Iyer said that “corruption and decline now creeping into the vitals of the Higher Courts and the urgent need to arrest this trend”.

Eminent jurist Fali Nariman in his book ‘The State of The Nation’ wrote, “The sin of corruption is not confined to politicians, ministers and bureaucrats. In India it has infiltrated into all organs of the state – with one difference: whereas the media, print and electronic, is not constrained when questioning or publicizing wrongdoing amongst public officials (expect for the sanctions imposed by the general law of defamation), the same is not the case with regard to questioning alleged lapses of good conduct amongst the judges in the higher judiciary. These judges enjoy almost complete protection under the law of contempt: laws that are administered and interpreted solely and finally by the judges themselves”.

Apart from these observations by legal luminaries there are recorded cases of alleged corruption against judges of ‘higher judiciary’.

  • In 2016, sixty-one Rajya Sabha members moved a petition seeking the proceeding to remove Justice CV Nagarjuna Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh/Telangana high court. The allegations made against him included disproportionate income and atrocities against members of scheduled castes. Again, in May 2017, 54 Rajya Sabha members moved a petition for his removal for alleged interference in the judicial process and hurling casteist abuses against a junior dalit judge. On both occasions, the bid to impeach him failed.
  • The case of Soumitra Sen is well-known. The former Calcutta high court judge was found guilty of misappropriating '33.23 lakh under his custody as a court-appointed receiver in the capacity as a lawyer, and misrepresenting facts before a Kolkata court in a 1983 case. The Rajya Sabha had already passed the motion for his impeachment when he resigned from his post.
  • The CBI charged the former judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court Nirmal Yadav in a corruption case. A bag containing Rs  15 lakh was delivered at the residence of justice Nirmaljit Kaur of the same court in 2008 — by mistake; it was allegedly meant for Nirmal Yadav. Now retired, she is facing trial.
  • PD Dinakaran who was the former chief justice of the Sikkim high court was accused of amassing huge assets and land and his hometown, Arakkonam, which were disproportionate to his known income and more than what was fixed by the Tamil Nadu Land reforms. The Rajya Sabha chairman had set up a judicial panel to look into allegations of corruption, but he resigned in July 2011, before impeachment proceedings could be initiated.
  • V Ramaswami was the first Supreme Court judge against who impeachment proceedings were initiated was accused of incurring “ostentatious expenditure” on his official residence during his tenure as chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court. The motion for his removal was put on voting in 1993 but was defeated in Lok Sabha.
  • Shamit Mukherjee was the Delhi high court judge in 2003 when CBI arrested him for his alleged role in a multi-crore land scam involving the DDA. In 2008, a Delhi court framed charges against Mukherjee and four others.

These cases are the only ones which came to light and therefore officials could take action. Beyond this, lie many more cases of alleged corruption which will never be even talked about as the law of contempt dissuades whistleblowers in highlighting these cases.

Nariman in his book writes, “The role of media in India in highlighting judicial corruption in the higher judiciary (or some other wrongdoing of one of its members) has drawn a blank. We have to try different measures to root out ‘judicial corruption’ (or rather, root out manifest perceptions of it); first of all, we must try to shame the (few) members. How do we do this? It is the lawyers who have to do it, not with a view of exposing ‘skeletons in the cupboards’ but for the good of the institution (the judiciary) and for the cleansing effect that transparent always have."

While the concern of Justice Jospeh in insulating the apex court from any ‘outside’ influence is understandable and appreciable, it goes without saying that in same measure he should also try to prevent the rot from within; that starts and ends with corruption.

And, that shall start with acceptance of malice that has crept in higher judiciary, rather than giving it the cleanest chit possible.

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Updated Date: Dec 03, 2018 16:02:38 IST