Context: Months after an in-house panel found an Allahabad High Court judge, Justice S.N. Shukla, guilty of misconduct, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate a motion for his removal.
Removal of Judges:
Article 124(4) and the Judges Inquiry Act 1968 determine the procedure of removal of the judges:
- A motion of impeachment addressed to the President is to be signed by at least 100 members of the Lok Sabha or 50 members of the Rajya Sabha and then delivered to the Speaker of Lok Sabha or the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.
- The motion is to be investigated by a Committee of 3 judges of the Supreme Court and a distinguished jurist.
- If the Committee finds the judge guilty of misbehavior or that he suffers from incapacity, the motion along with the report of the committee is taken up for consideration in the House where motion was moved.
- The judge is then removed by the requisite majority, i.e. majority of total and 2/3 of its members present and voting.
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- A member of the higher judiciary, which means the Judges and Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of India and the state High Courts, can be removed from service only through the process of impeachment under Article 124 (4) of the Constitution.
- A judge is removable from his office, only on the grounds of proved misbehavior or incapacity.
- Parliament is empowered to regulate the procedure for the investigation and proof of such misbehavior or incapacity.
- A judge may be removed from his office only by an order of the president.
Issues present and the need for reforms:
- Method pursued by the legislature in the Act of 1968 falls abysmally short of the mark as the same makes judges susceptible to a political process of voting which may or may not impeach judges despite a 3-member committee holding the Judge guilty. Such an event is a travesty of natural justice as there is propensity for a ‘guilty’ judge to be let off on the whims of a political process of voting.
- Entire process concerns of a possibility of harming judicial independence. This stems from a possibility of Judges being harassed to toe the ideology of a party in majority or face their wrath in an impending motion of impeachment.
- The words “misbehaviour” or “incapacity” have neither been defined nor clarified in the Constitution.
- The process of removing a judge is too elaborate and somewhat cumbersome.