//Bring judiciary under RTI: former chief justice

Bring judiciary under RTI: former chief justice

New Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) The judiciary should not be given immunity from the Right to Information (RTI) Act and judicial appointments should be opened to public scrutiny, a former chief justice of India who also headed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says.

Appearing on the BBC Hindi programme "Aapki baat BBC ke saath", Justice J.S. Verma also spoke on judiciary-legislature-executive face off, saying the "constitution is supreme and these three arms are its creatures". "Aapki…" is a live, interactive half-hour show, with listeners putting questions to the guest.

"To ensure transparency and accountability in public eye, I strongly feel that judiciary should be brought into the ambit of Right to Information Act," he maintained.

"When hearing of all the cases is done publicly, decisions are pronounced publicly, the administrative actions of the judiciary, especially judicial appointments, should be made open to public scrutiny," Verma added.

"For fairness of the process, it is fine to maintain confidentiality when the appointments process is on. However, when the process has been finalised and appointments done, the reasons for appointments and rejections should be made public.

"This would enhance the image of judiciary further in the eyes of common people, who see judiciary as their saviour", he said.

"I do not favour immunity for judiciary from the Right to Information Act. To begin with, I would be very happy if all my correspondence which I had done during the days as chief justice of two high courts and later the Supreme Court were made public", he said.

Asked about the lack of transparency in the present system of judicial appointments, Verma said: "There would be no problem if two principles are followed while appointing judges – firstly people with a honest track record and good character should only be considered for appointment, and secondly, they should have a balanced judicial mind and temperament.

"An individual cannot be disqualified from being appointed a judge if he follows a particular ideology, it is certainly not a disqualification. There have been examples in this country of people adhering to a particular ideology having done exceptionally well in judiciary.

"Look at V.R. Krishna Iyer, he was in politics, was a minister in Kerala, but is one of the most widely quoted judges in the country. It is the character and judicial mind of an individual which matters, and not the ideology. Yes, a person should not be of a weird mind."

Asked about the increasing perception of confrontation between the legislature and the judiciary, the former chief justice said: "In the cash for questions case pertaining to 11 MPs disqualified by the parliament, the question was to determine the parliamentary privileges.

"Now, the constitution of the country says till the time a law is made to define parliamentary privileges, till such time the Indian parliament would enjoy the same privileges as that of House of Commons.

"Now since it was a matter of codification of privileges, it has been laid down in the constitution that in such matters, the final arbiter would be the Supreme Court. Therefore, in my view the court was right in entertaining the matter and since it was decided that the matter was rightly decided by the parliament, it should not be viewed as confrontationist."

"Let us all not forget that when the matter reached the Supreme Court, the Lok Sabha speaker had said he would not entertain the court notice, as this matter did not fall under the court's jurisdiction. However, when the court decision went in his favour, he strongly welcomed the judgement. Therefore, the jurisdiction is not decided on the basis of the verdict, but on the basis of the judicial principle involved.

"If a question of law is involved in any matter brought to the notice of the courts, then the courts are within their rights to intervene in it", Verma said.

Describing the debate on confrontation as dangerous, he said: "It is not only incorrect but dangerous to say that judiciary, legislature and executive are in a struggle to decide who is supreme. It is very clear that in India, the constitution is supreme and these three arms are its creatures.

"The real power vests in people of the country and these three arms are supposed to serve the people. In my view, a confrontation can only take place if there is a clash of egos. Judiciary and the legislature should avoid such a clash at all costs and both of them should not forget that they are servants of the people, and then there would be no problem."

Sounding a note of caution for the media while reporting court matters, he said: "Media should avoid expressing its views and opinions on matters which are pending before courts to avoid an impression that the so-called media trials may be influencing the minds of judges.

"It is correct to report the proceedings, but views should not be aired on sub-judice matters. Though from my experience I can tell you that a judicial mind is not and should not be influenced by any external factors, but to dispel any such impression, the media should avoid hype in all types of cases, no matter how important a person may be involved in the case."