Judiciary shines a torch into itself
New Delhi: A Supreme Court judge has stunned the legal landscape by referring to a constitution bench of five senior-most judges bribery allegations against a retired high court judge who has been accused of trying to influence a bench headed by the Chief Justice of India.
Amid pulsating moments on Thursday - at one point, a copy of documents "purportedly issued by the Chief Justice himself" reached a two-judge bench headed by Justice J. Chelameswar while the hearing was on - the court heard that Chief Justice Dipak Misra should not be part of the five-judge bench.
Both elements - the order dictated by Justice Chelameswar to refer the allegations against the former judge to a constitution bench and the open plea by senior advocate Dushyant Dave that the Chief Justice of India should not be part of the bench - are uncommon in the country.
On Monday, when the five-judge bench convenes to deliberate if a court-monitored probe by a special investigation team should be ordered against the retired judge, Chief Justice Misra will be part of the five members. The bench is then expected to take a decision on whether Justice Misra should continue to be part of it in the light of the plea by the senior advocate on Thursday.
The case involves allegations that Justice I.M. Quiddusi, who retired from Orissa High Court, took a bribe of Rs 2 crore to manage a verdict favouring an Uttar Pradesh-based private medical college, Prasad Institute of Medial Sciences, that has been debarred for three years by the medical council.
Three pleas challenging the medical council were filed - one was in the apex court, where the present Chief Justice was part of the bench. The CBI had arrested Justice Quiddusi who is now out on bail.
On Thursday, Justice Chelameswar ordered that all investigation reports in the bribery case be sealed and placed before the constitution bench. The bench of Justice Chelameswar and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer was hearing a plea filed by civil liberties lawyer Kamini Jaiswal.
Around 10.30am, Dave, representing Jaiswal, sought an early hearing on the ground that it involved the reputation of the judiciary and the CBI should not be seen as trying to pressurise the judiciary in any manner. Justice Chelameswar listed the matter for hearing at 12.45pm.
While he was dealing with the matter, an emissary from the court registry placed a copy of documents. The Chief Justice was then heading a constitution bench dealing with another case.
Justice Chelameswar continued with the hearing and noted in the order later: "We are also duty bound to place the developments that when the hearing of the matter was in progress, the officer of the registry placed a Xerox copy of the proceedings purportedly issued by the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India."
Dave asked the bench in the packed courtroom: "Has the CBI filed a false case to bring the institution under pressure? Or is there something more? My Lord, hopefully the charges are false."
Justice Chelameswar said: "The bar, entire political spectrum and society, everyone must take blame for the state of things in the judiciary."
"Your Lordship, it should be listed before a bench of which the CJI (Chief Justice of India) is not apart," Dave said.
Dave referred to the purported suicide note of former Arunchal Pradesh chief minister Kaliko Pul, which had mentioned allegations against top judicial officers. "This court gave a decent burial to the Kaliko Pul episode. We would not like such things to happen," the senior advocate said.
Justice Chelameswar then passed the order, the excerpts from which follow:
"This matter was taken on board upon being mentioned in the morning at 10.30. On an enquiry from the bench regarding the urgency in the matter, it was brought to the notice of the court that a certain case is registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation against a retired high court judge of this country containing serious allegations implicating the said judge, shown as an accused in the FIR.... The FIR contained certain allegations which are disturbing.
"The allegations pertain to the functioning of this court. On perusal of the FIR which was placed before us in the morning, we thought it necessary and proper to take up the matter immediately. Therefore, permission was granted to move the matter today (Thursday) at 12.45pm before this court. Accordingly, the papers are placed before us at 12.45pm....
"We are also duty bound to place the developments that when the hearing of the matter was in progress, the officer of the registry placed a Xerox copy of the proceedings purportedly issued by the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India...."
"...we deem it appropriate that this matter be heard by the constitution bench of the first five judges in the order of seniority of this court. Having regard to the importance of the matter, we also deem it appropriate that the matter be listed on Monday, November 13, 2017...."