Judicial reforms, law on judges’ assets disclosure on anvil: Moily

NEW DELHI - Promising to put in place an overarching “roadmap for judicial reforms” by Sep 15, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily Friday said a legislation will be introduced in the budget session of parliament to ensure that judges declare their assets.

“I am open to foreign law firms coming into India. We have an open mind on this, but let me clarify this would not be done without evolving a proper consensus, without first harnessing the talent out here,” Moily said, speaking of various plans for his ministry.

During an interaction with reporters here under the aegis of the Press Association, he said the country already had institutes like the National Law School University in Bangalore, “which I pioneered”, and there were over a dozen such schools now.

However, Moily added they were not serving their purpose of providing quality manpower to the judiciary and attention would be given to making them relevant.

On the issue of making judges declare their assets, he said: “I am going to introduce a stand-alone legislation on the judiciary. I have sent the file to the law secretary to study the draft and I expect the study to be over in next two days.”

The budget session of parliament begins July 2.

Refusing to give the details of the draft, the minister said: “The judges are going to declare the assets and liabilities. It is wrong to assume that they (judges) are against it. We are not on a confrontational line with the judiciary.”

A debate is on for a while whether judges of the apex court, high courts and city courts should disclose their assets and liabilities.

Supreme Court judges now voluntarily file a statement about their assets and liabilities with the Chief Justice of India (CJI). But the CJI has so far refused to place the statements in the public domain, insisting a law be first enacted to prevent misuse of such information.

The law minister said there would be overarching judicial reforms touching upon high backlog of litigation in the courts in the country, setting up of a judicial service commission, doing away with redundant laws and introducing “annual audit for every court in the country”.

Moily said the pendency of cases in the courts in India was “alarming and I am on a task to reduce it from 15 years to three years” as part of judicial reforms.

He said there was a backlog of over 50,000 cases in the Supreme Court while in the country’s high courts this number was well over 3.8 million and in the district courts it stood upwards of 25 million. The Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh topped the list followed by the Patna, Punjab and Haryana high courts.

The minister said there were five vacancies of judges in the apex court, but in high courts the number was 251 and over 3,100 in the district and subordinate courts.

He said: “The state, including the state and central governments, are the biggest litigants. We are in the process of identifying the departments which are embroiled the most in legal cases and also the bottlenecks.”

The minister also said 30 percent of the litigation stuck in courts are criminal cases and “we are aiming to wipe them out”.

“National consultations are on for judicial reforms and I want to have a time-bound, actionable plan. There are many academic reports already available; one just has to pool all minds to come out with a plan,” Moily said.

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