Judicial nepotism rampant in India

In the first step in the fight against judicial nepotism, the Law Ministry wrote to the Bar Council of India last month asking it to ensure that lawyers don’t appear in cases before judges who are close relatives. However, it appears to have ignored the wider problem of what is called Son Stroke or Uncle Judge, where judges have close relatives practising in the same court.

NDTV discovered that this trend, where two judges or a group of judges have children practising in each other’s courts, is widespread. While not everyone takes advantage of what has been described as a mutual cooperative society, many of them do. This problem first surfaced in 2003, when the Bar Council of India demanded the transfer of all judges whose relatives practised in the same courts.

A year later, BK Roy, then Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, issued an administrative order barring a group of 10-12 judges from hearing any case pleaded by each other’s relatives.

He quoted eminent jurist HM Seervai: “Experience shows that an impression is created in the public, however unjustified it may be, that it would be advantageous to engage a judge’s son as an advocate.”

“It was generally believed that A, B, C and D (all judges) constituted a mutual co-operative society, in the sense was believed that each of the four judges (A, B, C and D) would protect the sons of the three other judges.”

The order sparked off a protest by judges in Punjab who took mass leave. Justice BK Roy was subsequently transferred, and since then, the order has been ignored.

“Some relatives misuse their connections more blatantly than others, but the problem remains in principle. An especially acute feature of problem of nepotism as it exists here is that apart from relatives of high court judges, children of sitting Supreme Court judges from this region also practise here at Chandigarh.”

“The advantages, the benefits that accrue to them from their connections is well known to all and is fully exploited,” said Anupam Gupta, Senior Advocate, Punjab & Haryana High Court.

Recently an MP raised the issue of judicial nepotism again and claimed that out of 490 judges of the various High Courts and the Supreme Court, relatives of 131 judges are practising in the same court.

Limited directive

Finally, four long years after the issue was first raised by the Bar Council, the Law Ministry issued a directive. But it was confined to saying that no lawyer shall plead a case before a judge who is a close relative.

It completely skirts the issue of close relatives of a judge practising in the same court – the Uncle Judge or Son Stroke syndrome.

“There are complaints from all over the country that judges’ children are practising in the same high court and that is causing grave problem in regard to handling of cases and the judges favouring and one judges son appearing before another judge,” said M N Krishnamany, President, SC Bar Association.

Judges are, in fact, expected to follow a code of conduct which points out that: “Close association with individual members of the Bar, particularly with those who practise in the same court, shall be eschewed.”

But is this distance really possible?

“If your son, brother or sister is practising in the same court, you can’t eschew close association with your son, daughter or brother.”

“Therefore, you should not be a judge in the same court; you should opt to be transferred to some other court where a close relative is not practising,” said Prashant Bhushan, Member, Committee on Judicial Accountability.

However, as figures show, this is clearly not the trend.

In the Punjab & Haryana High Court, the relatives of eight sitting judges plead cases, while in Delhi High Court, the close relatives of nine sitting judges are practising lawyers.

Also senior lawyers feel that the children of judges are often favoured.

“That instances have come that a relation of a judge having joined only three four years in the practise suddenly his briefs are huge in number so that is what it is under scrutiny because he takes advantage of his position,” said Jaganath Patnaik, President, Bar Council of India.

“It is very clear also as I know personally so many judges in the High Courts their children are practising and are being pampered also,” said M N Krishnamani, President, SC Bar Association.

The public impression is that in order to get a favourable order, it’s better to hire a close relative of a judge to plead your case.

Now the questions that remain to be answered are can the Bar Councils keep a check on this practise and is the Law Ministry seriously concerned about ending nepotism?

Ajmer Singh, Wednesday, April 11, 2007 (New Delhi), NDTV.COM

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