New Chief Justice of India R M Lodha Sunday accepted that the allegations of sexual harassment against judicial officers may have dented the image of the judiciary, from whom perfection in conduct is expected.
“Every act which is not good for the society is not good for the judiciary as well and it is bound to dent the image of the institution where nothing short of perfection is demanded and expected,” said Justice Lodha when asked if such complaints have dented the image of the judiciary.
He said: “So, the judiciary has to behave and work in the best possible tradition and follow the highest code of conduct.” Speaking to the media after taking over as the CJI, Justice Lodha said there was a comprehensive mechanism, in accordance with the law and the guidelines framed by the Supreme Court in Vishaka case, for dealing with sexual harassment complaints and assured that it will be “strictly followed”.
The SC has been recently embroiled in handling the complaints of sexual harassment against two of its former judges. While one case was dealt with on the administrative side, the second case is pending on the judicial side.
In contrast to what his predecessor Justice P Sathasivam said during his media interactions, Justice Lodha said he did not agree with the idea of fixed tenure for chief justices of high courts and the CJI.
“My view will be little different on the issue. This institution works on discipline. The fixed tenure is bound to affect the next member. If there is a fixed tenure of the CJI then the legitimate expectations of other judges would be taken away. Average tenure of Supreme Court judges is less than four years then how do you expect fixed tenure of two years for the CJI,” he said.
The CJI also spoke on controversies surrounding kith and kin of judges practicing in the same court, saying “unfortunately” the judiciary and the judges are blamed for it.
“What can a judge do? Say my son or daughter is not adhering to the code of conduct; it is the Bar (which has to take actions). Provisions are already in place. They have to take actions. Disciplinary committee is constituted in each Bar council. Unfortunately, the role that the Bar is required to play is not being played and blame is out on the judiciary…that is not fair. Judges cannot help. For every member of the Bar, disciplinary control is with the Bar council,” he said.
He said the Bar also had to play its role on issues of bench hunting, which he said could not be tolerated.
The CJI favoured a “wider consultation” for appointing judges through the collegium system, which he said was the best that the institution could have in the present circumstances. He however clarified that this would be done “without tinkering” with the memorandum of procedure prescribed by the Law Ministry for appointments.