Judicial Accountability

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : November 30th, 2020

"The decline in the integrity of Judiciary and Judicial Accountability" has been in news these days. In this context, it is very important to understand "what Judicial Accountability is" and "how to ensure it" for UPSC IAS Mains (GS Paper-2) Exam point of view.

"The decline in the integrity of Judiciary and Judicial Accountability" has been in news these days. In this context, it is very important to understand "what Judicial Accountability is" and "how to ensure it" for UPSC IAS Mains (GS Paper-2) Exam point of view.

Judicial Accountability


The dictionary meaning for ‘Accountable’ is ‘responsible for your own decisions or actions and expected to explain to them when you are asked. Accountability is essential for democracy.

 In India, only the executive and the legislature are held accountable and not the judiciary. Judges are not accountable (answerable) to anybody for their decisions in appointments, transfers and allocating cases to benches etc.

Recent incidents and the Relevance of Judicial Accountability

  • In India, judges are appointed by a collegium of judges in the name of judicial independence and free from executive interference. 
  • This has resulted in a significant decline in the integrity of Judiciary. In 2018, four senior-most Judges had to come out to media and say in public that everything is not in order in Supreme Court. The former Supreme Court Chief Justice, VR Krishna Iyer, once had to express his resentment by saying ‘the Pathology of India Judiciary’.
  • The pathology of Indian Judiciary has become more explicit in recent times. A few years ago the Supreme Court advocate, Prashant Bhushan, had publicly commented that more than half of the Judges of the Supreme Court are corrupt.
  • The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy had filed a complaint to the CJI against the second senior-most Supreme Court Judge, N.V. Ramana alleging that he was showing bias, favouritism and intervening in the administration of justice to the benches in AP High Court. Lack of transparency in judicial administration resulting in undue interference in cases etc.
  • There is a serious violation of standards in allocating cases to judges. The cases are allocated to judges according to the will of the ruling dispensation at the centre.
  • The alacrity shown by the Supreme Court in dealing with Arnab Goswami case and the same was not shown in many other similar cases (for ex: illegal detention of writers like Varavara Rao, Stan Swamy, etc., & a journalist in Hathras rape case) raised the public and media eyebrows.
  • The conduct of the Judges cannot be discussed in the Parliament unless a motion is passed.
  • Exempted from RTI: Judiciary is out of the ambit of RTI. Judges are exempted from the Right to Information Act of 2005.

Significance of Judicial Accountability

Justice delayed is justice denied. Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha in July 2020 that more than 43 lakh cases were pending in the 25 high courts in the country, of which over 8 lakh are over a decade old. There are several allegations of corruption against the Supreme court and High court Judges. Judiciary is the watchdog, if the watchdog itself functions against the spirit of the constitution, then who will watch the watchdog?

Hence there is a need to:

  • Ensure public confidence in Judiciary
  • Heighten the credibility of the Judiciary

Steps taken by the Government

The former Chief Justice of India, S. Venkataramaiah and former Judges of the Supreme Court D.A. Desai and Chennappa Reddy had expressed that if all the sections of the society are accountable for their actions, there is no reason why the judges should not be so.

  1. Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010

    The bill seeks to:

  • create enforceable standards for the conduct of judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court,
  • change the existing mechanism for an investigation into allegations of misbehaviour or incapacity of judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court,
  • change the process of removal of judges,
  • enable minor disciplinary measures to be taken against judges,
  • Require the declaration of assets of judges
  1. National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014:
  • In India, Judges are appointed by Judges themselves in the form of the collegium, which is unique to only India. This has led to ‘give-and-take culture’ in the judiciary.
  • The government made an attempt in replacing the collegium system of appointment with NJAC Act, which provides a procedure for appointment of judges by a commission consists of six people — the Chief Justice of India, the two most senior judges of the Supreme Court, the Law Minister, and two ‘eminent persons’.
  • However, the Act was later struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional- against judicial independence.

Way Forward

  • When there is a violation of fundamental rights, the only way common man has is to approach the Judiciary. Hence Judges shall uphold justice and constitutional morality for its own credibility. "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done."
  • The independence and impartiality of the judiciary is the hallmark of Indian democracy. The Constitution of India provides several safeguards to maintain the independence of the judiciary.
  • The NJAC Act which gives the Law Ministry a say in appointing the judges and reduces judicial independence, which is a basic feature of the constitution. Hence, the Government needs to evolve a procedure of appointing judges upholding the independence of the judges
  • The government shall develop a graded accountability mechanism while preserving the independence of the Judges.
  • Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 must be passed to ensure the conduct of the Judges including the subordinate judges
  • Transparency in the functioning of the judiciary is quintessential for judicial accountability. Hence, there is an absolute need for bringing the office of CJI under the ambit of RTI.

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