The Delhi High Court has stayed the operation of a circular issued by the Law Ministry which laid down stringent guidelines for judges who go abroad on their private visits.
Staying the implementation of the circular issued by the Law Ministry on February 15 last, a bench headed by Justice Pradeep Nandrajog pulled up the government official who drafted the guidelines for being over enthusiastic and asked them to reply on the bizarre and amusing guidelines issued by them for judges while they were abroad on a private tour.
The court's directions came on an application filed by a lawyer who claimed that the executive, by issuing the guidelines have intruded upon the independence of judiciary by imposing unreasonable restrictions on them.
The court observed that a mindless exercise by an over-enthusiastic bureaucrat who has over-mingled the procedures and set up guidelines for a judge who is on an official visit abroad and extends his visit for private purposes needs to be dismissed at the outset.
The court said the 11-point guidelines made for the Supreme court and High Court judges including the Chief Justice of India have no grounds and need to be quashed. The guidelines number 8 states that every proposal of private foreign visit by a judge has to be sent to the Law Ministry for approval via the CJI or the Chief Justice of High Court concerned.
The court took strong exception to the use of word 'competent Authority' by the Law Ministry, used in guidelines no 9(b) and 9(e), which states, 'the approval of leave for private foreign visits shall, however, continue to be obtained from the authority concerned...The complete proposal along with application for private foreign visits of the judges, at their own expenses, for obtaining the approval of the competent authority may be forwarded so as to reach the Department of Justice at least 15 days prior to the commencement of the visit.
Justice Nandrajog said prima facie, the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts would not be subjected to the administrative control of any authority called the ‘competent authority’. 'We hasten to add that we are not talking on the issue of accountability of Constitutional authorities as per the scheme of the Constitution.
We are referring to the competence of an authority with respect to administrative matters relating to the personal affairs of judges,' the court said.
'What happens if a judge from India is on a private visit to the UK and meets a judge from the Court of Appeals who is a friend his from India, and he by way of courtesy, requests the judge from India to have a cup of coffee at the Coffee Bar? As per the guidelines, the Indian judge cannot accept any hospitality from a foreign national or a foreign citizen and thus the courtesy extended by the judge in England would be required to be politely refused,' the court remarked.
'If there is a last-minute change in a judge’s itinerary to meet his relative who has now acquired foreign nationality and since it was not in the itinerary of the judge, no FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) clearance was obtained. Should the judge refuse to even have a cold drink costing less than a dollar at the residence of his relative who happens to be a foreign national?' the court asked.
'A judge may befriend a fellow co-passenger on a coach or liner who offers a sandwich to the Indian judge. Des the judge from India have to decline the same if the offer is from a foreign national or a foreign citizen,' the court said.
The court said it was also amused at the 11 terms constituting Para 10 of the policy. The seventh term requires a judge to disclose the source of funding and complete break-up, giving details of the expenditure met and committed, on a foreign private visit.
'The concluding portion of condition seven uses the expression balance from the budget allocation,' the court said. 'Do we understand that this means that the government has a charitable fund for the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Court, out of which a shortfall on the committed expenditure by a judge on a foreign visit would be made good, with reference to ‘the budget allocation’ prima facie, as we read the policy, it means Yes,' the bench said.