NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court on Friday observed that if retired judges who head or are part of statutory bodies, tribunals and commissions also simultaneously get involved in any other “commercial-legal” activity like arbitration, it may jeopardise reputation of their office.
A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw said “not only would pursuing such a vocation or occupation simultaneously with the office occupied be at the cost of the work of the said office, but may also jeopardise/ appear to jeopardise reputation of the said office…”
The court also said “a whole-time employee is expected to bestow all his time, energy and resources to the whole time employment and not to divert the same to any other job, work or vocation.”
“Moreover, retired judges appointed as chairpersons or members of statutory bodies, tribunals.. discharge judicial /quasi-judicial functions and their involvement in any other commercial legal activity or as arbitrators would necessarily require them to interact, in all possibility, with same set of people…, giving rise to speculation about their impartiality in discharge of their duty in such capacity.”
The court noted that though some statutes on appointment of chairperson/member of tribunals/statutory bodies prohibit taking up of any other work, this provision was not present in all legislations, and this “lacuna” resulted in some judges being entitled to taking up arbitrations while others who were similarly placed were barred.
“It is precisely to remedy such a situation that amendments to the existing legislations/new legislation are/is proposed. However, the said process, inspite of our waiting for the last nearly five years, has not yielded any fruit,” it said.
It, however, did not issue any directions on the issue as it felt the subject fell in the “domain” of the legislature. It only asked the government “to bestow special attention on the issue and to ensure that appropriate legislation is made at the earliest”.
The court’s observations came in its judgement disposing of a PIL by NGO Common Cause, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, seeking that no retired Supreme Court or High Court judge should take up arbitration work while he/she was a chairperson/member of any government appointed constitutional /statutory body, commission, commission of inquiry, tribunal or appellate body.