CUSTOM SEARCH

WHEN JUDGE HIMSELF CORRUPT

In K. VEERASWAMI v. UNION OF INDIA AND OTHERS 1991 SCC (3) 655, by Majority Judgement of full Bench consisting of five Judges Justice K. Jagannath Shetty, Justice M.N. Venkatachalaiah, Justice B.C. Ray, Justice L.M. Sharma held that: The society's demand for honesty in a Judge is exacting and absolute. The standards of judicial behaviour, both on and off the Bench, are normally extremely high. For a judge to deviate from such standards of honesty and impartiality is to betray the trust reposed on him. No excuse or no legal relativity can condone such betrayal. From the standpoint of justice the size of the bribe or scope of corruption cannot be the scale for measuring a judge's dishonour. A single dishonest judge not only dishonours himself and disgraces his office but jeopardises the integrity of the entire judicial system. A judicial scandal has always been regarded as far more deplorable than a scandal involving either the Executive or a member of the Legislature. The slightest hint of irregularity or impropriety in the Court is a cause for great anxiety and alarm…………….. The expression "public servant" used in the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 is undoubtedly wide enough to denote every Judge, including the Judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court………………………. No person is above the law. In a proceeding under Article 124 of the Constitution, a Judge can merely be removed from his office. He cannot be convicted and punished. In a case where there is a positive finding recorded in such a proceeding against the Judge and on that ground he is removed from his office, it cannot be said that he will escape the criminal liability. In a civilised society the law cannot be assumed to be leading to such disturbing results…………………. It is not safe to assume that the Prevention of Corruption Act intended to make in its application any discrimination between the lower and the higher judiciary. There cannot be any rational ground on the basis of which a member of a higher judiciary may be allowed to escape prosecution while in identical circumstances a member of the subordinate judiciary is tried and convicted. Such an interpretation of the Act will militate against its constitutional validity and should not, therefore, be preferred…………… Section 5(1)(e) does not contemplate a notice to be served on the accused. If the prosecuting authority after making a suitable enquiry, by taking into account the relevant documents and questioning relevant persons, forms the opinion that the accused cannot satisfactorily account for the accumulation of disproportionate wealth in his possession the section is attracted.


 FACTS OF THE CASE AS OBSERVED BY JUSTICE K.JAGANNATH SHETTY:- This appeal by certificate under Articles 132(1) and 134(1)(e) of the Constitution has been filed by the former Chief Justice of the Madras High Court against the Full Bench decision of the same High Court refusing to quash the criminal proceedings taken against him. The appeal raises the questions of singular importance and consequence to Judges of the High Courts and this Apex Court. The central issue is whether the Judges could be prosecuted for offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 ('the Act'). The background of the case in the barest outline is as follows: The appellant started his life as an Advocate in the High Court of Madras. He joined the Madras Bar in 1941. In 1953 he was appointed as Assistant Government Pleader. In 1959 he became Government Pleader. He held that post till 20 February 1960 when he was elevated to the Bench as a permanent Judge of the Madras High Court. On 1 May 1969, he became the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. During his tenure as the Judge and Chief Justice he was said to have acquired assets disproportionate to the known source of income. The complaint in this regard was made to the Delhi Special Police Establishment ("CBI"). On 24 February 1976, the CBI registered a case against him with issuance of a First Information Report which was filed in one of the Courts at New Delhi. It was alleged in the First Information Report that taking into consideration the sources of income of the appellant as a Judge and Chief Justice of the High Court and the mode and style of his living with the probable expenses required during the period of his Judgeship/Chief Justiceship, it is reasonably believed that the appellant cannot satisfactorily account fox the possession of assets which are far disproportion he to his known source of income. It was further alleged that he has committed offences under Section 5(2) read with clauses (b)(d) and (e) of Section 5(1) of the Act. On 28 February 1976, a copy of the First Information Report was personally taken by the Investigating Officer to Madras and it was filed before the Court of Special Judge, Madras. The appellant on coming to know of these developments proceeded on leave from 9 March 1976 and subsequently retired on 8 April 1976 on attaining the age of superannuation. The investigation of the case by CBI was however, continued with the culmination of filing a final report. On 15 December 1977, a final report under Section 173(2) of the Code of Criminal 'Procedure (Cr. P.C.) was filed against the appellant before the Special Judge, Madras. The report under Section 173(2) is generally called as the charge sheet, and we would also prefer to term it as the charge sheet. The charge sheet inter alia states that the appellant after assuming. office as the Chief Justice of Madras gradually commenced accumulation of disproportionate assets etc. That for the period between 1 May 1969 to 24 February 1976, he was in possession of the pecuniary resources and property disproportionate by Rs.6.41,416.36 to the known sources of income over the same period. It was in his own name and in the names of his wife Smt. Eluthai Ammal and his two sons Shri V. Suresh and Shri V. Bhaskar. The appellant cannot satisfactorily account for such disproportionate assets. The appellant has thereby committed the offence of criminal misconduct under clause (e) of Section 5(1) which is punishable under Section 5(2) of the Act. The particulars of the disproportionate assets and the income of the appellant during the aforesaid period have been fully set out in the charge sheet. On perusing the charge sheet the learned Special Judge appears to have issued process for appearance of the appellant but the appellant did not appear there. He moved the High Court of Madras under Section 482 of the Cr. P.C. to quash that criminal proceedings before the High Court he contended that the proceedings initiated against him were unconstitutional, wholly without jurisdiction, illegal and void. The Full Bench of the High Court by majority view has dismissed his case. However, in view of the importance of the Constitutional questions involved in the case the High Court granted certificate for appeal to this Court. It may be noted that before the High Court every conceivable point was argued. They are various and varied. We may briefly refer to those contentions not for the purpose of examining them, since most of them have not been pressed before us, but only to indicate as to how the appellant projected his case. It was inter alia, contended that the Judges of the High Court and Supreme Court shall not be answerable before the ordinary criminal courts but only answerable to Parliament. The Parliament alone could deal with their misbehaviour under the provisions of Articles 124(4) and (5) read with Articles 217 and 218 of the Constitution. The Judge shall hold office until the age of superannuation subject to earlier removal for proved misbehaviour or incapacity. This protection to Judges will be defeated if they are compelled to stand trial for offence committed while discharging duties of their office even before retirement. Even the Parliament or the State Legislatures are not competent to make laws creating offences in matters relating to discharge of Judge's duties. Any such law would vitiate the scheme and the federal structure of the Constitution particularly the scheme of Article 124(4) read with Article 2 17 and 2 18. If the Legislatures are held to have powers to create offence for which Judges could be tried in ordinary criminal Courts then, it may affect the very independence of the Judiciary and the basic structure of the Constitution. Though the definition of "public servant" under Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code may include a Judge of the Higher Judiciary, since the Judge is not 'employed in connection with the affairs of the Union or State', the definition Should be narrowed down only to Judges other man the Judges of the Higher Judiciary. The jurisdiction of the CBI to register the case against the appellant and to investigate the offence was also questioned. The issuance of the First Information RepOrt and the subsequent filing of the charge sheet were impeached. It was alleged that they were actuated by collateral considerations. Alternatively, it was claimed that even assuming that all the allegations against the appellant are true, it will not constitute an offence under clause (e) of Section 5(1) of the Act since ingredients of the offence are not present in the case. The last and perhaps the most important contention urged before the High Court was regarding the necessity to obtain prior sanction from the competent authority for prosecution of the appellant as required under Section 6 of the Act. And since there was no such sanction obtained the Court has no jurisdiction to take cognizance of the case. Mr. Justice Mohan, with whom Mr. Justice Natarajan, (as he then was) joined rejected all the contentions in a well considered judgment. The views expressed by Mohan, J., on all the issues except on the last one need not be set out here since all those issues have not been raised before us. On the last aspect relating to the requirement of prior sanction for prosecution of the appellant, the learned Judge, held that since the appellant has retired from service and was no longer a 'public servant' on the date of filing the charge sheet, the sanction for his prosecution required under Section 6 of the Act is not warranted. The third Judge Mr. Justice Balasubramanyan in a separate judgment has concurred with the majority views on most of the questions. He has however, differed on three points out of which one alone need be mentioned. The other two have not been supported before us by counsel for the appellant. The learned Judge has dealt with the ingredients of the offence under clause (e) of Section 5(1) with which the appellant was charged. While analysing ingredients of the offence, he went on to state that the gist of the offence is not the possession of assets merely. Nor even the sheer excess of assets over income, but the inability of the public servant in not being able to satisfactorily account for the excess. He observed that clause (e) of Section 5(1) of the Act places the burden of establishing unsatisfactory accounting squarely on the prosecution. In order to properly discharge this burden cast by the section, it Would be necessary for the Investigating Officer first of all to call upon the public servant to account for the disproportionate assets. He must then proceed to record his own finding on the explanation of the public servant. He must state whether it is satisfactory or not. And the offence complained of under clause (e) of Section 5(1) is not made out without such exercise and finding by the Investigating Officer. The learned Judge, however, was careful enough to modulate his reasoning so that it may be in conformity with the constitutional protection guaranteed to the accused under Article 20(3) of the Constitution, Article 20(3) provides that no person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. The learned Judge said that in view of Article 20(3) the Investigating Officer has no power to compel the accused to give his explanation for his disproportionate assets, but he must necessarily ask the public servant for an account. In this case. the accused-appellant has voluntarily submitted his statement of assets and income to the Investigating Officer in the course of investigation. Balasubramanyan, J., however, seems to have ignored that statement and focussed his attention on the default of the Investigating Officer in not calling upon the appellant to account for the disproportionate assets.' In that view, he held that the chargesheet could not be sustained and accordingly quashed the prosecution. Before us, counsel for the appellant advanced only two propositions. The first concerns with the ingredients of the offence alleged and the requirements of the charge-sheet filed against the appellant. It also involves the duties of the Investigating Officer. In this regard counsel sought to support the views expressed by Balasubramanyan, J., in his dissenting judgment. The second proposition relates to the inapplicability of the Act to Judges of the High Courts and Supreme Court. The essence of the submissions made on this aspect is based on the special status and role of Judges of the higher judiciary and in the need to safeguard judicial independence consistent with the constitutional provisions.

 Justice SHARMA, J. Observed that: “The State is an organisation committed to public good; it is not an end in itself. Its different branches including the legislature, judiciary and the executive are intended to perform different assigned important functions. Judiciary has a duty to dispense justice between person and person as also between person and State itself. To be able to perform its duties effectively the Judges have to act "without fear or favour, affection or ill will". They must, therefore, be free from pressure from any quarter. Nobody can deny this basic essence of independence of judiciary. But for the judiciary to be really effective, the purity in the administration of justice and the confidence of the people in the courts are equally essential. It is to achieve this end that the higher judiciary has been vested with the power to punish for its own contempt. This has become necessary so that an aggrieved or misdirected person may not cast aspersions on the court which may adversely affect the public confidence. If the community loses its faith in the courts, their very existence will cease to have any meaning. A person with a just cause shall not approach the court for a legal remedy, if according to his belief the decision of the court would be given on extreneous consideration and not on the merits of his claim. People will return to the law of the jungle for settling their dispute on the streets. These aspects are common for the entire judiciary, whether Higher or Subordinate, and to my mind no classification is permissible separating one category from another.

 RAY, J. observed that: The same view about the independence of the judiciary from the control of the executive has been spelt out by the observations of the Constitution Bench of Seven Judges in the case of S.P. Gupta & Ors. v. President of India and Ors., AIR 1982 (SC) 149. "The concept of independence of judiciary is a noble concept which inspires the Constitutional Scheme and constitute the foundation on which rests the edifice of our democratic polity. If there is one principle which runs through the entire fabric of the Constitution, it is the principle of the rule of law and under the Constitution, it is the judiciary which is entrusted with the task of keeping every organ of the State within the limits of the law and thereby making the rule of law meaningful and effective. It is to aid the judiciary in this task that the power of judicial review has been conferred upon the judiciary and it is by exercising this power which constitutes one of the most potent weapons in armoury of the law, that the judiciary seeks to protect the citizen against violation of his constitutional or legal rights or misuse of abuse of power by the State or its officers. The judiciary stands between the citizen and the State as a bulwark against executive excesses and misuse or abuse or power by the executive and there it is absolutely essential that the judiciary must be free from executive pressure or influence and this has been secured by the Constitution makers by making elaborate provisions in the Constitution to which detailed reference has been made in the judgments in Sankalchand Sheth's case (AIR 1977 SC 2326) (supra). But it is necessary to remind ourselves that the concept of independence of the judiciary is not limited only to independence from executive pressure or influence but it is a much wider concept which takes within its sweep independence from many other pressures and prejudices. It has many dimensions. Namely fearlessness of other power centres economic or political, and freedom from prejudices acquired and nourished by the class of which the Judges belong. If we may again quote the eloquent words of Justice Krishna Iyer: "Independence of the judiciary is not genuflexion; nor is it opposition to every proposition of Government. It is neither judiciary made to opposition measure nor Government's pleasure. The tyceon, the communalist, the parochialist, the faddist, the extremist and radical reactionary lying coiled up and subconsciously shaping judicial menrations are menaces to judicial independence when they are at variance with parts III and IV of the Paramount Parchment". Judges should be of stern stuff and tough fibre, unbending before power, economic or political, and they must uphold the core principle of the rule of law which says "Be you ever so high, the law is above you." This is the principle of independence of the judiciary which is vital for the establishment of real participatory democracy, maintenance of the rule of law as a dynamic concept and delivery of social justice to the vulnerable sections of the community. It is this principle of independence of the judiciary which we must keep in mind while interpreting the relevant provisions of the Constitution.


 Jutice K. JAGANNATHA SHETTY, J. Observed that The Act was intended to cover all categories of public servants. The apparent policy of the legislation is to insure a clean public administration by weeding out corrupt officials. The Preamble of the Act indicates that the Act was intended to prevent more effectively the bribery and corruption by public servants. This Court has an occasion to examine the broad outlines of the Act. Imam. J., in S.A. Venkataraman v. The State, [1958] SCR 1040 while, analysing the provisions of the Act observed (at 1048): "that the provisions of the Act indicate that it was intention of the legislature to treat more severely than hitherto corruption on the part of a public servant and not to condone it in any manner whatsoever."

Reference may also be made to the observations of Subba Rao. J., as he then was, in M. Narayanan v. State of Kerala, [1963] 2 Suppl. SCR 724. The learned Judge said that the Act is a socially useful measure conceived in the public interest and it should be liberally constured. To quote his own words (at 729): "The Preamble indicates that the Act was passed as it was expedient to make more effective provisions for the prevention of bribery and corruption. The long title as well as the preamble indicate that the Act was passed to put down the said social evil i.e. bribery and corruption by public Servant. Bribery is a form of corruption. The fact that in addition to the word 'bribery' the word 'corruption' is used shows that the legislation was intended to combat also other evils in additon to bribery. The existing law. i.e. Penal Code was found insufficient to eradicate or even to control the growing evil of bribery and corruption corroding the public service of our country. The provisions broadly include the existing offences under ss. 161 and 165 of the Indian Penal Code committed by public servants and enact a new rule of presumptive evidence against the accused. The Act also creates a new offence of criminal misconduct by public servants though to some extent it overlaps on the pre-existing offences and enacts a rebuttable presumption contrary to the well-known principles of Criminal Jurisprudence. It also aims to protect honest public servants from harassment by prescribing that the investigation against them could be made only by police officials of particular status and by making the sanction of the Government or other appropriate officer a pre-condition for their prosecution. As it is a socially useful measure conceived in public interest, it should be liberally construed so as to bring about the desired object i.e. to prevent corruption among public servants and to prevent harassment of the honest among them." It is inappropriate to state that conviction and sentence are no bar for the Judge to sit in the Court. We may make it clear that if a Judge is convicted for the offence of criminal misconduct or any other offence involving moral turpitude, it is but proper for him to keep himself away from the Court. He must voluntarily withdraw from judicial work and await the outcome of the criminal prosecution. If he is sentenced in a criminal case he should forthwith tender his resignation unless he obtains stay of his conviction and sentence. He shall not insist on his right to sit on the Bench till he is cleared from the charge by a Court of competent jurisdiction. The judiciary has no power of the purse or the sword. It survives only by public confidence and it is important to the stability of the society that the confidence of the public is not shaken. The Judge whose character is clouded and whose standards of morality and rectitude are in doubt may not have the judicial independence and may not command confidence of the public. He must voluntarily withdraw from the judicial work and administration. The emphasis on this point should not appear superfluous Prof. Jackson says "Misbehaviour by a Judge, whether it takes place on the bench or off the bench, undermines public confidence in the administration of justice, and also damages public respect for the law of the land; if nothing is seen to be done about it, the damage goes unrepaired. This must be so when the judge commits a serious criminal offence and remains in office". There are various protections afforded to Judges to preserve the independence of the judiciary. They have protection from civil liability for any act done or ordered to be done by them in discharge of their judicial duty whether or not such judicial duty is performed within the limits of their jurisdiction. That has been provided under Section 1 of the Judicial Officers Protection Act, 1850. Likewise, Section 77 IPC gives them protection from criminal liability for an act performed judicially. Section 77 states that nothing is an offence which is done by a Judge when acting judicially in the exercise of any power which is, or which in good faith he believes to be, given to him by law". A discussion on the conduct of Judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court in the discharge of their duties shall not take place in the State Legislatures or in Parliament (Articles 12 1 and 211). The High Courts and the Supreme Court have been constituted as Courts of record with the power to punish anybody for committing contempt. (Articles 129 and 215). The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (Act 7-0-71) provides power to the Court to take civil and criminal contempt proceedings. But we know of no law providing protection for Judges from Criminal prosecution. Article 361(2) confers immunity from criminal prosecution only to the President and Governors of States and to no others. Even that immunity has been limited during their term of office. The Judges are liable to be dealt with just the same way as any other person in respect of criminal offence. It is only in taking of bribes or with regard to the offence of corruption the sanction for criminal prosecution is required. 



BY CONCLUSION LET US QUOTE FROM WORDS OF JUSTICE:- In S.P. Gupta & Ors. etc. etc. v. Union of India & Ors. etc. etc., 1982] 2 SCR 365 it was clearly pointed out that “Not to have a corrupt Judge or a Judge who has misbehaved is unquestionably in public interest but at the same time preserving judicial independence is of the highest public interest. It is a question of choosing the lesser evil and in inevitable course has to' be adopted not for the protection of the corrupt or dishonest judge but for protecting several other honest, conscientious and hard-working Judges by preserving their independence; it is a price which the Society has to pay to avoid the greater evil that will ensue if judicial independence is sacrificed.”

KARNATAKA LAND LAWS