SC contempt sword hovers

Dipak Misra

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday prima facie felt that advocates Prashant Bhushan and Kamini Jaiswal were liable for contempt of court by casting aspersions on Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra in a bribery case that has triggered unparalleled events on the judicial firmament.

The bribery charge is linked to a retired Orissa High Court judge who has been accused of trying to influence the outcome of a medical college case in the top court.

"Everybody is doubting our credibility. The allegations have raised disturbing questions denting the image of the judiciary," a special three-judge bench of the apex court said on Monday.

The bench of Justices R.K. Aggrawal, Arun Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar said it would on Tuesday deliver the verdict on the action to be initiated against the two advocates.

"Prima facie, it is a contempt on the face of the court," the bench observed during the hearing.

The court has the powers to issue contempt notices for explanation or deliver a guilty verdict, which carries a jail term of up to six months.

The court noted that the allegations against the Chief Justice, filed by the lawyers' forum Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms through advocate Bhushan and by advocate Jaiswal in her individual capacity, had been identically drafted. Jaiswal is also a member of the forum, it said.

The bench said the allegations were motivated and meant to "scandalise the court".

Justice Arun Misra, referring to a claim by Bhushan that an FIR had named the Chief Justice of India, observed: "Question is, no judge has been named. There can be no FIR against a judge without sanction from a competent authority."

On both the pleas, senior advocate Dushayant Dave had appeared before the bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and Abdul Nazeer for early listing. The bench had formed a constitution bench to look into the bribery case but the decision was annulled the very next day by a five-judge bench.

"You are talking about propriety?" the bench asked Bhushan on Monday, citing the conflict of interest involved in the two petitions.

The court said it was a case of "forum hunting (attempting to get a case listed before a preferred bench) and sheer contempt" by the petitioners.

The bench rejected the plea of senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, appearing for the forum, that Justices Arun Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar recuse themselves as they were part of the five-judge bench that had annulled the order of the Justice Chelameshwar bench.

It also rejected Shanti Bhushan's plea that the matter be heard by a five-judge constitution bench.

Justice Arun Misra said Bhushan and Jaiswal should first explain their conduct of filing two identical petitions and getting them listed before Justice Chelameswar's bench.

The bench said that while seeking early listing, Jaiswal had suppressed the fact that a similar petition had been filed by the forum and had already been listed before another bench, of Justice A.K. Sikri.

Prashant Bhushan said Justice Chelameswar had orally listed the CJAR matter before himself but the registry later listed it before Justice Sikiri's bench. The bench did not agree with the submission and said the two petitioners must first explain their conduct of filing two similar petitions and getting them urgently listed before the Justice Chelameshwar bench.

Justice Misra said these days any person could make any allegation against a judge outside the corridors and promise a client a favourable judgment for which the judiciary could not be held responsible.

Prashant Bhushan said since there was certain allegations against a former high court judge, it has created clouds in the minds of the people, which need to be cleared by setting up a court-monitored special investigation team under the supervision of a former Chief Justice of India.

Attorney-general K.K. Venugopal, clarifying that he was not appearing for the Centre, strongly criticised the petitions. He said they had driven a wedge in the judiciary, among the judges and the bar members.

He said there were a number of instances where advocates or clients kept reeling out their so-called acquaintances with judges and promising relief in judicial matters for their own monetary gains.

Additional solicitor-general Tushar Mehta said it was a "clear, conscious and deliberate" suppression of fact by Jaiswal that a similar petition was already pending with Justice Sikri's bench.


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