Removal of Judge

Background of issue:

  • Issues within Supreme Court (SC):
    • On January 12, four senior judges of SC, in an unprecedented public airing of grievances, questioned the conduct of CJI over allocation of cases to judges. 
    • The judges have since met the CJI but there has been no indication so far of any headway made in breaking the impasse in the apex court.
  • Government’s stand: The government has already said that the government and political parties must stay out of the issue since the judiciary is capable of resolving its problems.
  • Oppositions’ stand: 
    • While opposition parties said impeachment motion against CJI is the only way the legislature can ensure an inquiry into “serious issues” raised by four senior judges of the Supreme Court. 
    • As per them all the three pillars of our democracy — legislature, executive and judiciary — must come together to resolve the serious issues. 
    • However they did not specify on which ground they will bring in an impeachment motion, if at all they do bring one.

Removal of SC Judge:

  • Under Art.-124(4) of the Constitution:
    • A Judge of SC can be removed only by the President on ground of ‘proved misbehaviour’ or ‘incapacity’ only after a motion to this effect is passed by both the Houses of Parliament by special majority (i.e., a majority of the total membership of that House and a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting).
    • The President can issue the removal order only after an address by Parliament has been presented to him in the same session for such removal.
  • Under Article-124(5) of the Constitution: Parliament may by law regulate the procedure for the presentation of an address and for the investigation & proof of the misbehaviour or incapacity of a Judge. Thus Parliament enacted Judges Enquiry Act 1968.
  • The Judges Enquiry Act (1968) regulates the procedure relating to the removal of a judge of the Supreme Court by the process of  impeachment:
    • A removal motion signed by 100 members (in the case of Lok Sabha) or 50 members (in the case of Rajya Sabha) is to be given to the Speaker/Chairman.
    • The Speaker/Chairman may admit the motion or refuse to admit it.
    • If it is admitted, then the Speaker/Chairman is to constitute a three member committee to investigate into the charges. The committee should consist of: 
      • The chief justice or a judge of the Supreme Court
      • A chief justice of a high court 
      • A distinguished jurist
    • If the committee finds the judge to be guilty of misbehaviour or suffering from incapacity, the House can take up the consideration of the motion.
    • After the motion is passed by each House of Parliament by special majority, an address is presented to the president for removal of the judge.
  • Finally, the president passes an order removing the judge.
  • It is interesting to know that no judge of the Supreme Court has been impeached so far.

Past cases of impeachment of SC and HC judges:

Justice V Ramaswami of the Supreme Court

  • The first and the only case of impeachment of any Supreme Court judge is that of Justice V Ramaswami.
  • Justice Ramaswami found himself in the eye of a storm in 1990 following media reports that he had made conspicuously lavish expenditure on his official residence during his tenure in Chandigarh. 
  • Some political parties came out with notice of a motion in Lok Sabha after which Speaker accepted the motion in March 1991 and set up a committee comprising Justice P B Sawant of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court P D Desai and Justice O Chinnappa Reddy, a retired judge of Supreme Court, to conduct an inquiry into the allegations. 
  • Though the enquiry Committee found him guilty of misbehaviour, he could not be removed as the impeachment motion was defeated in the Lok Sabha.  The Congress Party abstained from voting.

Justice Soumitra Sen of the Kolkata High Court

  • Justice Soumitra Sen of Kolkata High Court was faced with the removal process in Rajya Sabha on August 17, 2011. 
  • He was accused of appropriating Rs 32 lakh (in his capacity as a lawyer) when he was a court-appointed receiver in 1993 in a lawsuit between the Steel Authority of India Limited and the Shipping Corporation of India. 
  • A three-judge inquiry committee, set up in 2007, held the charges against Justice Sen. The CJI subsequently recommended his impeachment to the Prime Minister.
  • In 2009, 58 Rajya Sabha MPs moved a motion for his impeachment. After that House Chairman set up a committee consisting of Justice B Sudershan Reddy of SC, Punjab and Haryana HC Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and jurist Fali S Nariman. 
  • The panel upheld the charge. A motion for his removal was discussed and passed by Rajya Sabha on August 18, 2011. 
  • The Lok Sabha was scheduled to discuss the motion on September 5 and 6, 2011. 
  • However, Justice Sen put in his papers on September 1. The Lok Sabha consequently dropped the proceedings against him.

Justice Paul Daniel Dinakaran Premkumar of the Karnataka High Court

  • Justice Premkumar landed in controversy in August 2009 when several eminent people from the legal profession alleged him for indulging in corruption.
  • Rajya Sabha Chairman, admitting a motion for the removal, constituted a panel in January 2010 consisting of Justice Aftab Alam of the apex court, Karnataka High Court Chief Justice J S Khehar and senior advocate P P Rao to examine the allegations. 
  • He resigned on July 29, 2011, but registered his lack of confidence in the committee.  The Rajya Sabha proceedings became infructuous after his resignation.

Justice S K Gangele of the Madhya Pradesh High Court

  • Justice S K Gangele was the last to be faced with removal proceedings. He was accused with charges of sexual harassment of a woman additional district judge posed in Gwalior.
  • The committee had been set up by Ansari in April 2015 after admitting a motion supported by 58 members. However, the committee acquitted him in 2017. 
  • The complainant, who headed the Vishaka committee against sexual harassment, had put in her papers in 2014, maintaining that she had to resign to protect her “dignity, womanhood and self-esteem”.