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Impeachment of Judges

5 min read

Vidhi Agarwal

Impeachment is defined as an act of bringing something’s legitimacy or validity into question. The term impeachment refers to the procedure followed in deciding to prevent a person in a position from practicing all the powers and duties required by the position. The whole dismissal process is impeachment. This generally refers to the President, judges of the judicial courts, and other positions in the Constitution. Impeachment applies to an accusation of corruption brought against the occupant of a public office in multiple countries with federal presidential Representative Republic governments.

Impeachment is a mechanism by which judges may be removed from office by the elected parts of the government, generally the legislature. Since the power of impeachment is largely in the hands of politicians, it is often challenged for partisan purposes, but in fact, impeachment and dismissal of judges is rare and is generally limited to serious ethical or criminal violations such as perjury, bribery, or conflict of interest.

The procedure for the impeachment of judges is set out in Article 124(4) of the Constitution of India. A Supreme Court Judge can, by order of the President, be dismissed from his office. The consent of both the Houses of Parliament requires such an order. A special majority of members present and voting in the same session is required.

Established incompetence and lack of ability are the reasons for impeachment. After the issuance of a notice to the speaker or chairman of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively, it is brought to the fore. A thorough inquiry would be undertaken by a group of three jurists. At the next session of both the Houses of Parliament, they send the statement.

Articles 124(4), (5) of the Constitution of India and the provisions of the Judges (Inquiry) Act of 1968 comprise the law on that part.

Article 124(4) of the Constitution of India states: “A Judge of the Supreme Court shall not be removed from his office except by an order of the President passed after an address by each House of Parliament supported by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting has been presented to the President in the same session for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity.”

Article 124(5) of the Constitution of India states: “Parliament may by law regulate the procedure for the presentation of an address and for the investigation and proof of the misbehaviour or incapacity of a Judge under clause (4).”

The Judges(Inquiry)Act of 1968 deals with: An Act to regulate the procedure for the investigation and proof of the misbehaviour or incapacity of a judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court and for the presentation of an address by Parliament to the President and for matter-, connected therewith.

Note: There is no definition of misbehaviour or incapacity, but it may include any criminal behaviour or other judicial malfeasance.

Procedure of Impeachment

  1. In either of the Houses of Parliament, an impeachment motion against the judge has to be raised. Only if it has the necessary levels of aid, 100 MPs in Lok Sabha or 50 MPs in Rajya Sabha, can the motion be approved by the Speaker in the Lok Sabha or Chairman (defacto, the Vice-President) in the Rajya Sabha.
  2. If the motion is approved, the charges will be reviewed by a three-member committee. The committee shall consist of a judge of the Supreme Court, any High Court’s Chief Justice, and a ‘distinguished jurist’ appointed by the Speaker/Vice-President.
  3. This must be forwarded to the Speaker/Vice-President, who then also discusses it with the other Chamber, until the Committee completes its report.
  4. An ‘address to the President’ must then be passed by both Houses of Parliament, calling for the judge to be dismissed. This needs to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the MPs present during the vote in each House, and must also reach the 50 percent mark in each House to pass.
  5. The President can oust the judge from his office by Presidential Order, provided all addresses succeed.

When an indictment is moved against a judge, there is no simple convention on what happens. Propriety indicates that once the process is complete, they take no more problems. For example, in compliance with the Supreme Court in 1999’s in-house procedure when a judge is found guilty of mistakes by the Chief Justice of India, normal practice of not granting any judicial job to the judge – notice it that is even though no proceedings against the judge are initiated.

History of Impeachment in India

In view of the working mechanism, it is not surprising that no judge in independent India has been removed to date. So far, six judges (excluding Justice Misra) have been confronted with attempts to remove them from office.

Justice V Ramaswami, then Chief Justice of the Punjab and the High Court of Haryana, has the dubious honour of being the first judge to activate action against him in 1991. Although the Investigative Committee found Justice Ramaswami guilty on 11 of the 14 charges, the indictment motion failed due to the lack of votes at the final stage. It did not pass Lok Sabha.

Proceedings brought against Sikkim High Court Judge PD Dinakaran in 2011 for suspected abuse on the part of the judiciary have met with success until the establishment of the Investigative Committee. However, the removal was halted following the resignation of Justice Dinakaran on the grounds of dearth of belief and confidence in the neutrality of the committee of inquiry. The furthest prosecution proceedings were brought against Justice Soumitra Sen of the High Court of Calcutta for citing embezzlement of public funds. Following a finding by the Investigative Committee that Justice Sen was guilty, the indictment motion found massive support in the Rajya Sabha. However, before the motion could be campaigned on in the Lok Sabha, Justice Sen stepped down in September 2011.

In 2015, Justice JB Pardiwala of the High Court of Gujarat hit a snag after making certain ‘casteist’ remarks against the reservation in a judgement. However, the motion for an indictment lapsed after the judge had removed the offensive statements from the judgement.

The very year, charges of sexual harassment were brought against Justice SK Gangele of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. However, after finding that the accusations were unjustified, the committee of inquiry set up by Rajya Sabha ended up giving the judge a clean bill.

Two attempts to remove Justice CV Nagarjuna Reddy as Judges of the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Court were also unsuccessful in 2016 and 2017. The motion of indictment, initiated on the grounds of alleged casteistic acts, saw a loss of support before the Investigative Committee could be necessitated.

Conclusion

Because the prosecution and conviction of officials requires the reversal of routine constitutional processes, they are reserved exclusively for those who have committed severe violations of their office.