Rajya Sabha Chairman cannot insist on proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ at this stage of the motion, according to constitutional provisions or the law.
The order of Venkaiah Naidu, Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and Vice-President of India, rejecting the motion seeking the impeachment of the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, is a misinterpretation of Article 124(4) and (5) of the Constitution and the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968.
The Chairman records: “The same does not constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt, which is required to make out a case of proved misbehaviour under Article 124(4).”
Prima facie or with proof?
The seminal issue involved in the present controversy is whether the Members of Parliament initiating the impeachment motion have to adduce proof of evidence which is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ at the stage of presentation of the complaint, or does it have to be of a prima facie nature.
The said proposition was conclusively settled in the case of the Sub-Committee on Judicial Accountability vs. Union of India by a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court. In this connection, once prima facie proof of misbehaviour is presented, the machinery for investigation and finding of proof of misbehaviour or incapacity comes into operation, which entails the constitution of the inquiry committee envisaged under the Judges (Inquiry) Act.
The position would be that an “allegation” of misbehaviour or incapacity of a judge has to be made, investigated, and found proved in accordance with the law enacted under Article 124(5) of the Constitution. This indicates that the process of determining the veracity of the allegations is required to be undertaken by the inquiry committee and not by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
Moreover, if the ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ has to be presented at the stage of presentation of the impeachment motion, the role of the inquiry committee envisaged under the Judges (Inquiry) Act is rendered inconsequential.
The role of the Chairman at this stage is restricted to ascertaining the minimum number of MPs signing the motion as required under law, and to satisfy himself about the prima facie nature of the charges as contained in the motion.
A ‘prima facie’ case does not mean a case proved to the hilt, but a case which can be said to be established if the evidence which is led in support of the case were (to be) believed. While determining whether a prima facie case had been made out or not, the relevant consideration is whether on the basis of the evidence, it was possible to arrive at the conclusion in question, and not whether that was the only conclusion which could be arrived at on that evidence.
In other words, the Chairman has misinterpreted the requirement that the impeachment motion — at the stage of presentation — should have evidence of proof which is beyond reasonable doubt in order to admit the motion and constitute an inquiry committee.
Meaning of misbehaviour
The meaning of the expression “misbehaviour” as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the context of Article 124(4) of the Constitution and the Judges (Inquiry) Act is “wilful abuse of judicial office, wilful misconduct in the office, corruption, lack of integrity, any other offence involving moral turpitude or persistent failure to perform the judicial duties”.
The said expression has been consciously given a wide connotation to embrace within its sweep different facets of conduct opposed to good conduct.
The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, at this stage, is mandated under law to assess the said charges on the touchstone of prima facie evidence. Any other interpretation of the role of the Chairman will impinge on the constitutional power of the Members of Parliament to initiate a motion of impeachment on the basis of the material available to them.
It is useful to refer to the preamble of the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, which unequivocally states that it is an act to regulate the procedure for the investigation and proof of misbehaviour or incapacity of a judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court.
Therefore, the Chairman’s decision runs counter to the intention of the Parliament and, even, the Constituent Assembly.
Aadil Singh Boparai is a Supreme Court advocate.