India parliament begins impeachment proceedings against high court judge

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[JURIST] Impeachment hearings began [schedule, PDF] Wednesday in the Council of States [official website], India’s upper house of parliament, against Justice Soumitra Sen [official profile], a justice of the Calcutta High Court [official website]. Sen is charged with misappropriation of funds and misrepresentation of facts. The motions for impeachment were submitted after an official inquiry ended with Supreme Court judge B Sudershan Reddy finding Sen guilty of the charges. Chief Justice of India, KG Balakrishnan also recommended in a letter [text] to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [official website] that Sen be removed. Sen blamed the impeachment on Balakrishnan [The Hindu report] in his two-hour defense before the Council. Sen argued that the allegations are a conspiracy to have him removed to increase the image of the judiciary. Sen, in his capacity as justice, was assigned to sell an inventory of rejected goods from two civil suits, with the proceeds going back toward the payment of the judgment in one case, and disbursed to workers as back payments in another. Sen was to keep five percent for himself and had absolute control over all bank accounts connected to the cases. Parties to the cases requested information from Sen after not receiving their funds, which he ignored. Eventually, Sen withdrew all the money from the accounts and closed them, without explanation to the courts. Sen, in his defense, stated he had released funds to the workers, but did not account for the other case’s missing money. If two-thirds of the Council of States find him guilty, Sen’s case will be sent to the House of the People [official website], India’s lower house, for identical proceedings. It is uncertain when Council members will vote.

If impeached, Sen will be the first sitting high judge to be removed from office in Indian history, and it is only the second impeachment proceeding ever attempted. President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil [official website] announced in February that the government will work to eradicate corruption [JURIST report]. The government recently created a group of ministers charged with streamlining the judicial system [Indian Express report], particularly working to expedite corruption cases brought against civil servants suspected of corruption and to amend current laws to facilitate bringing claims against public servants. Singh called for the establishment of special courts [JURIST report] to deal only with corruption charges, telling a convention of high-ranking justices and government ministers that, “apart from pendency and delayed justice, corruption is another challenge we face both in government and the judiciary.” Singh said addressing these problems would increases both domestic and foreign confidence in the court system. India’s judiciary was analyzed in the FORUM post India and Pakistan: A Tale of Judicial Appointments [JURIST op-ed] by guest columnist Shubhankar Dam [official profile] of the Singapore Management University School of Law [official website].

Read more detail on JURIST – Paper Chase

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