Tuesday June 18, 2024

Accountability of court judges in India, UK, US and Sri Lanka

By Sabir Shah
April 10, 2019

LAHORE: Despite all their independence, court judges are frequently held accountable worldwide by the Presidents of their respective countries, impeached by parliaments and even jailed on directives of their senior colleagues.

In one incident taking place in India daring June 2017, an arbiter was arrested and imprisoned in a contempt case on orders of his fellow judges. Research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” shows that Justice Karnan had been on the run since receiving a jail sentence a month earlier. According to the “BBC News,” Justice CS Karnan was the first sitting high court judge in India to face a jail term. He was sent to a prison in Kolkata (Calcutta), and a bail plea made the morning following his arrest had been rejected by the Supreme Court.

The judge was found guilty of making allegations against fellow judges. He was convicted of contempt of court by the country’s Supreme Court after sending a letter to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in which he urged action against them the judges. Justice Karnan was stripped of his judicial powers in February 2017.

The “BBC News” had stated: “A seven-judge Supreme Court bench that included Chief Justice JS Khehar then ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Justice Karnan by a panel of government doctors. Justice Karnan angrily responded by ordering similar tests for the seven top court judges. In May, he passed an unprecedented order sentencing India's chief justice, and seven other judges of the Supreme Court, to five years in prison. The order said the judges were guilty of discrimination and harassment, among other charges. The top court has barred the media from publishing and broadcasting Justice Karnan’s statements.”

Here follow a few precedents where long arm of law had clutched global court arbiters for corruption, for abusive behaviour and even for watching pornography: In India, Supreme Court arbiter Justice Ramaswami became the first judge in 1990s to face the removal proceedings (impeachment through parliament).

A scandal had surfaced in the middle of year 1990 when several media outlets reported about his ostentatious expenditure on his official residence during his tenure as a Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana.

The only other judge to face removal proceedings was Justice Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court, proceedings against whom were initiated in Rajya Sabha in August 2011. Another such motion was initiated against Chief Justice Dinakaran of Sikkim High Court who then resigned from his post following allegations of corruption and subsequent impeachment proceedings.

In 2015, four Tamil Nadu judges were sacked for irregularities in two months. The “Times of India” had written: “Cracking the whip on subordinate judicial officers facing grave charges, the Madras high court has eased four district judges out of service in a span of about two months. The sacked quartet included one district judge hoping to be elevated to the high court and another favoured by the Tamil Nadu government for appointment as law secretary.” In March 2015, for the first time in Indian legal history, the parliament had initiated proceedings to attempt to impeach a judge over allegations of sexual harassment.

Justice S. K. Gangele had found himself in the dock after a female additional district judge had accused him of sexual harassment alleging that she was forced to resign from the judicial service due to his “advances and malicious aspirations”.

In March 2015, as many as 58 Rajya Sabha members had submitted a petition to Chairperson, Hamid Ansari, to initiate a motion of impeachment under Article 124 of the Indian Constitution against the accused arbiter. Gangele was stripped of administrative and supervisory roles.

During January 2013, Sri Lanka’s President had dismissed CJ Shirani Bandaranayake by ratifying parliament's recent vote to impeach her. The parliament impeached her on suspicion of corruption - an allegation she denied.

In July 2015, according to an “Indian Express” report, a Sri Lankan Supreme Court judge was arrested for allegedly assaulting his domestic help, the first ever case in the nation’s history in which a judge from the highest court was held for any offence. Judge Sarath de Abrew had surrendered to police following an assault complaint lodged by his domestic help.

He was granted bail after being produced in court, police said. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka had urged fellow judges of the Supreme Court to refuse sitting with him on the bench.

In April 2017, as the “Guardian” had reported, a British judge was sacked for anonymously posting abusive comments on a newspaper website about readers who questioned his verdicts.

Jason Dunn-Shaw, who sat at Canterbury crown court, was removed from the bench by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office over the posts in which he called his critics “donkeys”.

In May 2011, a British High Court judge James Allen’s reputation and career were in ruins, after he was found guilty of battering his wife in a fit of temper over his missed dinner.

Mrs. Allen had described how she punched herself in the head after becoming totally frustrated at her husband wanting to leave the house over a ‘ridiculous’ argument. Justice Allen, a High Court judge for more than 10 years, said his wife had a history of self-harming and was previously admitted to hospital after cutting her wrists. Another former Crown Court judge David Selwood, who had admitted a string of child abuse images offences, was given a 12 month rehabilitation order. He was charged after police had found 75 images of naked and semi-naked boys aged between eight and 14 on his laptop computer.

Yet another British arbiter, Richard Hoffman, was cautioned by police for alleged gross indecency. He was arrested with another man in public toilets.

Judge Hoffman was also reprimanded and warned by the Lord Chancellor that any repetition would be likely to lead to his dismissal. A British circuit judge at the Swansea Crown Court, Justice Price, was investigated after he had let his male escort Christopher Williams sit on the bench and have access to three courts as ‘a law student’. The judge was accused of exposing his office to possible blackmail threats and bringing the court into disrepute.

British Chief Circuit judge, Justice Victor Hall, was given a serious warning from Lord Chancellor after he was caught driving in a drunken state. The magistrates had fined him £1,000 and disqualified him from driving.

He was jeered at by people outside the court as he left, and is said to have offered to retire, but was suspended on full pay instead. Justice Richard Green was jailed for three years after it was known that while he was a solicitor, he took £85,000 from clients' investment funds.

The thefts committed were on elderly people around 80 to 90. The judge had spent the hoodwinked money on cars, luxury holidays and a yacht.

Justice Viscount of Kent had landed into trouble when he collided into two cars. When interviewed by the police, the Judge had claimed he had not hit either car. He was fined £500 and given five penalty points on his driving license. Justice Frank Chapman had found his 40-year legal career collapsing after he was found guilty of passing on some information during the hearing to assist a lawyer in a failing prosecution case. He had quickly made the decision to retire instead of facing the complaints that were lodged against him.

To cite just another example from the many in UK, a District judge Margaret Short was sacked for being ‘rude and petulant’. The UK Office for Judicial Complaints had said: “Her removal follows a history of complaints about her misconduct in court, primarily about the way in which she behaved towards solicitors appearing before her, but including a variety of other inappropriate behaviour.”

In US, during October 2016, the CJ of Alabama's Supreme Court was sacked for refusing to comply with the legislation on gay marriage. Chief Justice Roy Moore said his Christian faith meant he had to direct local officials not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In April 2016, a former Arkansas judge was convicted of receiving bribes in exchange for lowering the damages awarded in a civil suit. In September 2014, an American judge was sacked after he had ordered a local policeman to apply 50,000 volts of electric shock to what he clearly saw as cantankerous accused.

Two American judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, were convicted in 2009 of accepting money from a builder of two private youth centers in Pennsylvania state for the detention of juveniles. The two judges had agreed to impose harsh adjudications on juveniles brought before their courts to increase the number of residents in the private youth centers.

The “kids for cash” scandal had unfolded in 2008. The judges were convicted on 48 counts. Justice Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison on August 11, 2011. He is scheduled for release in 2035, when he will be 85 years old.

Justice Conahan was sentenced on September 23, 2011 to 17-and-a half years in federal prison. He is scheduled for release sometime in 2026, when he will be 74 years old.

In November 2015, as the “Associated Press” has reported, a North Carolina Superior Court Judge Arnold Ogden Jones was arrested on charges that he had tried to bribe an FBI officer to gather text messages between two phone numbers in what the accused arbiter said was a family matter. A federal grand jury had returned a three-count indictment, charging Justice Jones with promising and paying a bribe to a public official, promising and paying a gratuity to a public official, and corruptly attempting to influence an official proceeding.

In 1862, a judge West Humphreys was impeached by the US Senate and found guilty.

In 1913, Judge Robert Archbald was removed from office after he was found guilty in a bribery case, in 1936, a Florida District Judge Halsted Ritter was terminated from service on similar charges, in 1986, Justice Harry Claiborne was shown the door, in 1989, judges Alcee Hastings and Walter Nixon were removed from service, in July 2009, Justice Samuel Kent was sent packing by the US Senate on culpable charges and in December 2010, Justice Thomas Porteous was found guilty and consequently removed from office.