December,13,2015: The Delhi High Court has asked the Union government to ensure that an appropriate legislation is made at the earliest to prevent retired judges heading tribunals and commissions from taking up arbitration work, while observing that such activities may jeopardise the reputation of their office.
Disposing of a public interest writ petition moved by a non-government organisation, Common Cause, a Division Bench said over the weekend that the involvement of retired judges heading the statutory bodies in the commercial legal activities would require them to interact with the same set of people. This may give rise to speculation about their impartiality in discharge of their duty.
The Bench, comprising Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, noted that though some statutes on appointment of chairperson and members of statutory bodies prohibit taking up of any other work, this provision was not present in all legislations.
This lacuna had resulted in some judges taking up arbitration and others being barred.
The court was informed during the hearing that a Bill in this connection, titled The Tribunals, Appellate Tribunals and Other Authorities (Conditions of Service) Bill, 2014, was introduced in Rajya Sabha on February 19, 2014, and had since been referred for consideration by a standing committee of the Upper House.
While asking the Centre to “bestow special attention” on the issue, the Bench said though the courts had earlier stepped in to fill the vacuum in legislation whenever it was found, “we hesitate to do so, out of our deference to the legislature, which is seized of the matter, and respecting the doctrine of separation of powers.”
The subject fell in the domain of legislature and the court would be overstepping its limits if, while the legislature was debating the issue, it pre-empted the legislature by issuing directions, said the Bench.
Common Cause counsel Prashant Bhushan had sought directions that no retired Supreme Court or High Court Judge will take up arbitration work while he or she is a chairperson or member of any government-appointed constitutional or statutory body, Commission, Commission of Inquiry, tribunal or appellate body.
This may give rise to speculation about their impartiality in discharge of duty, said the Bench