Accountability in the Judiciary

There can be no arguments that the image of the judiciary has taken a battering in the last few months, but what made the recent events worse for the judiciary was the collective baggage of the past.

In this context the Supreme Court’s draft Judicial Accountability Guidelines which sets up a system to complain against, investigate and even take action against Judges is a welcome move.

While the Constitution and Judicial Service Act had broad legal provisions on the issue, it was not clearly stipulated and defined in either guidelines or rules and therefore lacked a structure and system.

A big positive is that while the Judicial Service Act does not talk about ordinary people filing complaints against High Court and Supreme Court judges, the guidelines goes a step further to include the judges of these two higher courts.

Another positive is that the draft guidelines clearly and transparently lays out the whole process and system from filing complaints, to the investigation team and process to the actions to be taken.

At the same time the guidelines, recognizing the need to ensure that judges are not subject to undue harassment with every verdict or personal vendetta, also provides protection through possible contempt proceedings for baseless complaints with mala-fide intentions.

Now, this is where the Judiciary has to be careful and do a tightrope walk to ensure that while it protects its judges against undue harassment, it also does not end up discouraging genuine complainants.

The guidelines in this aspect is still a draft, and the Supreme Court and the Judicial Institution as a whole has ample time and wisdom to take care and balance this particular aspect.

While the judiciary has taken a bold step in coming up with the draft guidelines, the next important step after its finalization would be effective implementation.

The success of the guidelines in the long run should be not so much in penalizing judges, but ensuring that there is a higher level of self-accountability at the individual Judge level.

After all this is the same judiciary that right from the district court level ruled against some of the most powerful people in the land in the Gyelpozhing case and even checked the government in the Tax case.

The Judiciary is an indispensable and important institution of our democracy, and it is a good sign that some serious soul searching is going on.

“Fairness is what justice really is.” 
 Justice Potter Stewart


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