Karnataka High Court judge, Justice P Krishna Bhat on Friday batted for protecting the credibility of judicial officers and suggested setting up stringent and perhaps, novel measures including narcoanalysis of judges and complainants, to safeguard the integrity of judiciary and to also protect judges from malafide and false allegations.
Justice Bhat was speaking at a farewell event organised in his honour as he is set to demit office as a judge of the Karnataka High Court on Sunday, August 7.
He pointed out a worrisome trend of complaints of misconduct arising at crucial stages of the careers of judges, regardless of how much judicial officers protect their independence and integrity.
"If such an allegation is established or such a perception prevails, judge is not independent and credibility is permanently dented. What then is the remedy? ", he asked.
He offered one solution for the same - judicial officers offering to take narco analysis test along with complainants, which he admitted could seem absurd and drastic at first.
"Judges, Judicial Officers and such other high functionaries like Lokayukta/Upa Lokayukta, etc. should offer themselves for narco-analysis test with the simultaneous liability for similar test on persons named by the functionary concerned, if the functionary feels the complaint is false and motivated," he suggested.
The independence of the judiciary, he said, is realised by each individual judge remaining faithful to the office they hold.
"To my mind, threat to ‘Independence of Judiciary’ is a myth. Independence of judiciary is realised by an individual Judge remaining independent. How is that attained? It is only by the judge internalising certain values and virtues. It is the Judge who is a ‘recluse’ (in the felicitous words of Sri ES Venkataramaiah, former Chief Justice of India) makes for independent judiciary. A judge acting judiciously has so many protections under law," he underscored.
Justice Bhat lamented the many instances when unfounded allegations having damaged the judiciary and called for putting safeguards in place.
"Such situations have caused incalculable damage to credibility of the functionary in particular and institution at large. It goes without saying that a debate is required and safeguards should be crafted for preventing abuse of the process in this regard," he said.
The judge, who was part of the subordinate judiciary for many years before his elevation to the High Court, spoke of how the hierarchical system of the judiciary often negatively impact the self-confidence, self-respect and the sense of independence of judicial officers.
He strongly objected to the practice of the sons and daughters of judges of the Supreme Court trying to influence judicial officers.
"If the progeny of the judges of the most superior Court in the country call on the judicial officers at their residence with eager litigants in tow with an attempt to pass slips and thereafter, drop the name of their forbear with hints of protection, then there is a serious problem to the independence of the judiciary," he opined.
Recalling an unfortunate instance when a High Court judge called for action against a District Judge, all because he was not received personally at the airport, Justice Bhat said that such vain behaviour ought to disqualify anyone from holding public office.
"Such vanities are destructive of judicial independence. Such Judges render themselves unfit to hold any public positions," he said.
Other situations that provoke questions about the integrity of judges are when give costly gifts to dignitaries, sit on recusal applications for too long, or are found frolicking in destination holiday centres in questionable company.
"You will be independent so long as you avoid doing excesses in the name of protocol. You will be independent if you undertake administration including recruitment processes in a fearless and independent manner regardless of possible ‘phone calls’ and ‘slips passed’ and inevitable possible reprisals," he advised judicial officers.
Born on August 8, 1960 in an agrarian family in Vittal Padnur Village of Bantwal Taluk, Dakshina Kannada District, he moved to Mangalore after schooling to complete his B.Sc degree from St. ALoysius, Mangalore.
After getting his law degree from the Law School, Banaras Hindu University, he initially joined the bar at District Courts in Mangalore and in July 1989, commenced his law practice before the Karnataka High Court.
In 1998, he was directly recruited as a District and Sessions Judge and he served in the capacity of Principal District and Sessions Judge at Bidar, Tumkur, Raichur, Belgaum and Bangalore Rural districts.
He was also the Registrar General of Karnataka High Court and Director of Karnataka Judicial Academy, Bangalore.
He was appointed as an Additional Judge of the Karnataka High Court on May 21, 2020 and made a Permanent Judge on September 25, 2021.
Despite having spent two decades in the district judiciary, Justice Bhat's elevation to the High Court, was mired in controversy.
The Supreme Court Collegium had initially recommended his name in 2016 but the Central government returned the proposal as there were some complaints against him.
When Justice Bhat was serving as the District and Sessions judge, Belagavi, he reported a judicial officer for misconduct. Once his name came up for elevation, the same judicial officer made a complaint against him but the same were concocted with the intention to malign him.
Even though the collegium recommended Justice Bhat since his name had been cleared, the Centre sat on the recommendation, as brought to light in a letter sent by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Jasti Chelameswar to then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, warning against the bonhomie between the judiciary and the government.
As he spoke on his last working day as a High Court Judge, he was strong in his conviction that he had served his office with dignity, self respect, independence and integrity.
"I entered the judiciary nearly a quarter of a century ago. Now the time has come for me to go; to hang up my judicial gown; I do so with plenty of satisfaction; satisfaction is because I have led my judicial life on my own terms – distractions of petitions and delicious name calling and misbranding notwithstanding," the judge said.
[Read full speech]