Almost seven months after the Delhi High Court struck down as “inappropriate” conditions laid down by the Law Ministry in a 2011 circular on “guidelines” for foreign visits by judges, the Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that even constitutional authorities like the Chief Election Commissioner were subjected to certain regulations over foreign visits. A Bench, led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, however, found substance in the HC’s views over aspects of privacy and independence of judges on private trips and refused to stay the operation of the order in totality.
Issuing a notice to the petitioner before the HC, the Bench agreed to stay only that part of the order which had quashed paragraph 10 of the impugned circular. Paragraph 10 constituted 11 terms. The seventh term required a judge to disclose the source of funding and complete break-up of expenditure met and committed on a private foreign visit. The concluding portion used the expression “and balance from the budget allocation”.
The HC, which in an earlier hearing questioned if the government had a “charitable fund” for judges to meet any shortfall on committed trip expenditure, had finally set aside all the conditions. “Paragraph 10, found to be lowering the dignity of constitutional posts held by judges of HCs and the SC, is quashed,” the HC had said.
The Indian Express, had on June 7, first reported the HC order, directing the Centre to tweak the guidelines since these were “untenable”, and appeared to be the result of a “mindless exercise” triggered by “over enthusiastic” behaviour.
Challenging this order, the government claimed that there was nothing inappropriate about certain regulations regarding judges’ foreign trips.
Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman, tried to convince the Bench that the intent of these regulations was not to intrude into the privacy of the judges but were meant to assist the judges in cases of medical emergency or otherwise in foreign lands.
“The idea is not to infringe the privacy of the judges but to provide security, medical and other facilities. Moreover, if a judge is travelling on a diplomatic passport, the competent authority must be informed; ministries of Law and External Affairs should be informed,” he said.
The Bench said the government might not be correct in claiming that all judges travelled on diplomatic passports since some of them had ordinary passports too.