The Indian Judiciary on Trial: Tackling Corruption in India’s Courts

Corruption in Indian judiciary is considered pervasive: over 45% of Indians believe the judiciary is corrupt, a view shared by external assessments. Not only is corruption rampant in the lower courts, some have alleged that this corruption reaches the highest levels. In 2010, a former Law Minister declared that eight of sixteen former Chief Justices of India (CJI) were corrupt, and in 2014 a former Supreme Court judge alleged that three former CJIs made “improper compromises” to let a corrupt High Court judge continue in office. Sadly, the Indian judiciary has shown a predilection to treat every call from the executive or the legislature for greater judicial accountability as an attack on the judiciary’s independence. That concern is not altogether unreasonable given the terse history of power battles among the three branches, but it increasingly rings hollow, given the rising reports of corruption in judiciary’s ranks (see here, here and here).

Indian judges may be nowhere near as corrupt as its politicians; but Indian judiciary, like its counterparts elsewhere, relies on its reputation for fairness, impartiality, and incorruptibility. The courts can scarcely afford any loss of public faith. Hence, it must have been a wake-up call for the judiciary to face wavering public support as it battled the executive and legislature during 2014-15 on the National Judicial Accountability Commission Act (NJAC), which sought to expand executive’s say in judicial appointments and make them more transparent. When the Supreme Court finally struck down NJAC in October 2015, citing the need for absolute judicial independence, the judgment was met with both veiled skepticism and open criticism. Although the current appointment system (in which judges appoint their successors) has been relatively free of corruption allegations, the NJAC debate brought forth long simmering concerns of judicial corruption and worries that even judicial appointment was not above suspicion.

How has this come to pass? Why is public confidence in the integrity of the Indian judiciary eroding? Four main issues need addressing in the context of India’s judicial corruption: Continue reading