Why do judges recuse themselves?

Source: The post is based on the article “Why do judges recuse themselves?” published in The Hindu on 26th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary

Relevance: About Recusal of Judges

News: Supreme Court judge Justice M.R. Shah has recently refused to recuse himself from hearing a plea by former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt.

Why do judges recuse?

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The practice of recusal originates from the basic concept of due process of law, that no one shall be a judge in his or her own case.

What is the procedure for recusal?

There are two kinds of recusals — 1) an automatic recusal where a judge himself withdraws from the case, 2) when a party raises a plea for recusal highlighting the possibility of bias of the judge in the case.

The decision to recuse rests solely on the conscience and discretion of the judge and no party can compel a judge to withdraw from a case. If a judge recuses himself, the case is listed before the Chief Justice for allotment to an alternate Bench.

Do judges have to record a reason for recusal?

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There are different views regarding the declaring the reason for recusal.

For instance, Justice Kurien Joseph in the NJAC judgment, believed that giving reasons for recusal is the constitutional duty of a judge while Justice Madan Lokur was of the opinion that citing reasons for recusal is unwarranted.

The Delhi High Court recently ruled that no litigant or third party has any right to intervene, comment or enquire regarding a judge’s recusal from a case.

What rules has the Supreme Court laid down for recusal?

In Ranjit Thakur versus Union of India (1987), the SC said that if a party has a reasonable belief that a judge may be biased in a case, the judge should consider recusing themselves to ensure impartiality and fairness in the judicial process.

In the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association versus the Union of India (2015), the court observed that where a judge has a pecuniary interest, no further inquiry is needed as to whether there was a ‘real danger’ or ‘reasonable suspicion’ of bias.

Further, Justice Arun Mishra in the Indore Development Authority versus Manoharlal and Ors (2019) held that a judge who has recused himself from hearing a case in the smaller bench is not disqualified from being a part of the larger bench for the same case.

Do foreign countries have laws related to recusal of judges?

US: The U.S. has a well-defined law on recusals. Such rules are also codified. In the US, there are three grounds for recusal — 1) financial or corporate interest, 2) a case in which the judge was a material witness or a lawyer, 3) and a relationship to a party.

UK: The ‘real danger’ test was adopted as the applicable standard for the recusal of judge. However, after its criticism, a new test was formulated, where the standard laid down was to look at the likelihood of bias from the perspective of a fair-minded and reasonable observer.

Note: The “real danger” test is a legal standard used to establish if a decision-maker has a high possibility of bias, requiring their recusal from a case in order to maintain the fairness and integrity of the proceedings.

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