The parliamentary standing committee has said that since the Supreme Court has held that the public has a right to know the assets of those standing for elections to legislatures, going by that logic, judges should disclose their assets and liabilities as well.
The disclosure was made in the ‘action-taken report’ of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice.
The Department of Justice told the Parliamentary Committee that the consultation with the registry of the Supreme Court has since been initiated, soliciting their views on the matter. However, there has yet to be a response from the registry.
The parliamentary committee has asked the government to fastrack the consultation process with the registry of the Supreme Court.
The one hundred thirty-third report of the committee on the subject ‘judicial processes and their reforms’ had recommended that the government bring appropriate legislation to make it mandatory for judges of the higher judiciary to furnish their property returns on an annual basis to the appropriate authority.
The standing committee had observed that the Supreme Court had gone to the extent of holding that the public has a right to know the assets of those standing for elections as members of Parliament (MPs) and members of legislative assemblies (MLAs). Going by that logic, judges should disclose their assets and liabilities as well.
“Anybody holding public office and drawing a salary from the exchequer should mandatorily furnish annual returns of their property. (Para 79 of the report) 4.2 Declaration of assets by the judges of the higher judiciary will only bring more trust and credibility into the system,” the standing committee had said.
On September 8, 2009, the Supreme Court, on the administrative side, had resolved to put the declaration of assets by its judges on the court’s website on or before October 21, 2009 purely voluntarily.
No current judge of the Supreme Court has revealed the details of their assets on the court’s website. However, a few former chief justices of India (CJIs) and judgesmade voluntary disclosures on the website.
Regarding high courts, the standing committee had noted that “only five high courts have data on their website[s] related to the declaration of assets by a few judges of [the] concerned high courts,” the report highlights.
On the issue of increasing the retirement age of high court judges to bring it on par with the retirement age of the Supreme Court judges, the Union department of justice has told the standing committee that doing so will reduce the attraction of getting elevated to the Supreme Court among high court judges.
“The probable consequence of enhancing the age of high court judges could be that many high court judges may prefer to remain in high courts being their parent high court either as judges or as chief justices, in case the retirement ages of the Supreme Court and high court judges is the same,”the department of justice said.
The government also apprehended that bringing parity in the retirement age of the Supreme Court and high court judges may result in consequential demand for an increasein the retirement age of the Supreme Court judges.
“Many retired judges of high courts are appointed as members of tribunals. An increase in the retirement age to 65 may deprive the tribunals of having presiding officers and judicial members from retired high court judges,” the government stated.
At present, high court judges retire at the age of 62 while Supreme Court judges retire at the age of 65.