Declaration of Assets by Judges-How they do it elsewhere

Given the concerns, justifiable or otherwise, raised by a section of the judiciary regarding the possible misuse of information pertaining to judges’ assets; and the call for putting in place strict guidelines and procedures to determine when, what, and how much, to declare, it might be interesting to see how other countries deal with this issue. Here is US Chief Justice John G. Robert’s financial disclosure for 2007 (the latest available). The financial disclosure records of all US Supreme Court judges can be accessed here, and the records of all US SC, appellate, and district court judges can be found here. The US financial declaration system does not seem to be focusing only on the tracking of wealth accumulation (though that is of course a necessary component), but also on determining issues of conflict of interest. Hence, a major portion of their declaration deals with gifts, etc received by judges, and visits, conferences and lectures attended by them, alongwith payment or reimbursement received. In light of the Ghaziabad scam that is still under investigation, I believe financial disclosure by judges in India should contain this component as well.
Needless to say, this does not mean that we should follow other countries blindly in this or any other regard. Their experiences can however be taken into account in formulating our own rules.
Written by
Aparna Chandra
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  • Thanks, Aparna, for drawing attention to the comparative angle on this issue.

    As it happens, the existing US model is focused upon at some length in Justice Bhat's judgment (available here), at paras 76-77. In these portions of the judgment, Justice Bhat examines the statutory backdrop as well as academic commentary on the US system for disclosure of assets by judges.

    Indeed, Justice Bhat goes further than you suggest, and actually recommends the US experience as a model for the scheme to be evolved in India (at para 77):

    "As may be seen from the above discussion and from the extracts quoted, fairly well established norms defining what kinds of information should be disclosed; the safeguards, and provision for public disclosure of the information furnished by the concerned US federal judges, exist. …. The forms evolved, as well as the procedures followed in the United States, – including the redaction norms- under the Ethics in Government Act, 1978, reports of the US Judicial Conference, as well as the Judicial Disclosure Responsibility Act, 2007, which amends the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to: (1) restrict disclosure of personal information about family members of jjudges whose revelation might endanger them; and (2) extend the authority of the Judicial Conference to redact certain personal information of judges from financial disclosure reports may be considered. "

    Hence, Justice Bhat would not only welcome your suggestion, but has already anticipated it in his judgment.

    The forms that you point to have clearly been publicized after following the statutory procedure. If you go over Justice Roberts' statement, it doesn't provide very detailed information about his income and wealth. Quite often codes are used, thereby embellishing Justice Bhat's point about balancing the privacy and other interests of judges. What it does provide information on is the issue that you focus upon: avoiding conflicts of interest. In the Indian situation, this is clearly an extremely important consideration, and I agree with you that the disclosure norms that are ultimately evolved must require such information. These will, however, have to be suitably modified to adapt to the actual situations in which conflicts are likely to arise in India. (Not many of our apex court judges seem to teach at law schools, and only a few of them seem to take the task of penning academic lectures as seriously as their American counterparts).

    I think it would be interesting to cast a wider comparative survey, and examine other models to see if they can similarly provide guidance, subject again to your commendable caveat.

  • Thanks Arun. I must admit (as is evident) I have not read J. Bhat's judgment yet. On the conflict of interests issue, while our judges might not do too much teaching or non-judicial writing, they do go for a lot of conferences and talks (and mostly abroad). It would be interesting to find out (and necessary for the public to know, I would imagine) who is organizing these trips, and what they are paying for, etc.