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Gag clause in judges’ bill off

New Delhi, Feb. 12 (PTI): A controversial clause barring judges from making verbal comments against any constitutional authority during open hearings was today dropped by the cabinet in a bill on judicial standards and accountability.

The move followed objections from members of the judiciary. The law ministry took back the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill to the cabinet to drop the clause. Minister Kapil Sibal confirmed the exclusion to The Telegraph.

The bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha. It is pending in the Rajya Sabha.

This was the fourth time the cabinet deliberated on the bill that seeks to ensure accountability of judges. In December 2012, when it was last taken up, it had been decided that the clause would be retained with certain amendments.

The earlier clause prohibited judges from making “unwarranted comments against the conduct of any constitutional or statutory authority or statutory bodies or statutory institutions or any chairperson or member or officer thereof, or on the matters which are pending or likely to arise for judicial determination”.

The clause has been dropped altogether now, following the law ministry’s fresh assessment that retaining it would not be practical.

Because of the change, the bill will have to go back to the Lok Sabha once it is passed by the upper House.

The bill also seeks to establish a credible mechanism to investigate individual complaints of misbehaviour or incapacity against a Supreme Court or high court judge and to regulate the procedure for such probes.

Former Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia had in 2012 expressed fears over the bill. “We are not afraid. But it should not tinker with judicial independence,” he had said.