Graft in ju­di­ciary: CJI bench an­nuls or­der

Amid high drama, it over­rules or­der of two SC judges

DNA (Delhi) - - FRONT PAGE - Ri­tika Jain ri­tika.jain@dnain­

New Delhi: High drama was wit­nessed in the Supreme Court on Fri­day, cul­mi­nat­ing in a five-judge bench led by Chief Jus­tice of In­dia (CJI) Di­pak Misra an­nulling the five-judge bench con­sti­tuted yes­ter­day by a bench headed by Jus­tice Jasti Che­lameswar. The bench was sched­uled to be­gin hear­ing from Mon­day an al­leged bribery case in­volv­ing a re­tired Orissa High Court judge and in which, ac­cord­ing to the pe­ti­tion­ers, names of some serv­ing judges have cropped up.

The five-judge bench which heard the mat­ter to­day — the orig­i­nal com­po­si­tion con­sisted of seven judges, out of which Jus­tices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan re­cused them­selves, re­it­er­ated that the CJI was the “Master of the Rolls”. It noted that the nei­ther a two­judge, nor a three-judge bench could have or­dered con­sti­tu­tion of a spe­cific bench.

Any ju­di­cial or­der passed by any other judge to set up a bench will be “in­ef­fec­tive and not bind­ing,” the Con­sti­tu­tion Bench, which also com­prised Jus­tices R K Agrawal, Arun Mishra, Ami­tava Roy and A M Khan­wilkar, said.

The bench took ex­cep­tion to a two-judge bench pass­ing an or­der con­sti­tut­ing a five­judge bench and clar­i­fied that al­lo­ca­tion of mat­ter by the CJI was a prin­ci­ple of law, ju­di­cial dis­ci­pline and deco­rum. The CJI him­self added that no other bench could as­sign mat­ters un­less al­lo­cated by him.

How­ever, the packed court­room wit­nessed sharp crit­i­cism and ex­change of words be­tween CJI Misra and ad­vo­cate Prashant Bhushan, es­pe­cially af­ter Bhushan asked the CJI to re­cuse him­self from the case and the CJI re­fus­ing to do so.

The CJI also told Bhushan, who was rep­re­sent­ing pe­ti­tion­ers Cam­paign for Ju­di­cial Ac­count­abil­ity and se­nior ad­vo­cate Kamini Jaiswal that the ac­cu­sa­tions were “wild al­le­ga­tions” against him (CJI Misra) and could in­vite con­tempt. To this, Bhushan asked the CJI to is­sue con­tempt to him.

The hear­ing that last for al­most an hour and a half was marked by chaos, with Bhushan fi­nally storm­ing out of court­room.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, mem­bers of the Supreme Court Bar As­so­ci­a­tion (SCBA) led by its pres­i­dent RS Suri al­leged “im­pro­pri­ety” on the part of the pe­ti­tion­ers and their lawyers in men­tion­ing the mat­ter be­fore another bench.

Sug­gest­ing that this was a way to get favourable or­ders by ter­ror­ism, mem­bers of the SCBA called for con­tempt pro­ceed­ings.

The court­room was a sea of con­fu­sion with mem­bers of the bar as­so­ci­a­tion speak­ing out of turn and clam­our­ing to be heard. In the melee, Bhushan and Jaiswal were un­able to get in a word edge­wise and were forced to re­main as mute spec­ta­tors. Each time they made an at­tempt to say some­thing, they were shouted down. The CJI con­sti­tuted the five-judge bench on the heels of an or­der passed by Jus­tice Sikri’s bench who had re­ferred a mat­ter per­tain­ing to the med­i­cal col­lege bribery case.

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