MATTER OF HONOUR
Lawyers are split over the move to transfer two judges on the ground of public interest
The legal community in Mumbai is split down the middle over the move to transfer two Bombay High Court judges, Nishita Mhatre and Dileep Bhosale, in “public interest”. Mhatre is being transferred to the Calcutta High Court and Bhosale to the Karnataka High Court. Eight senior counsel from Mumbai dashed off a letter to Chief Justice of India ( CJI) Sarosh Homi Kapadia on October 10 demanding an explanation from him as to what “public interest” lies behind the move to transfer them. The lawyers felt the words were almost like a stigma on an honest judge. There are other lawyers, however, who think this letter was totally uncalled for and the CJI should not respond to it.
“As we understand it, all judicial work and activity can only be in public interest and no other. If, therefore, there is any overarching public interest beyond that which routinely informs all judicial activity, then it must be disclosed,” the letter signed by Bombay Bar Association President Rohit Kapadia and lawyers Iqbal Chagla, E.P. Bharucha, Kevic Setalvad, Avinash Rana, Rajni Iyer, Raju Subramanium and Navroz Seervai stated. The lawyers vouch for the integrity of the judges, in particular Justice Mhatre, who they felt was unjustly targeted. Not just judges, but everyone in the entire legal fraternity had a right to know why a judge was being transferred, the letter stated. Rana admitted that he signed the letter but refused to elaborate as “it is against ethics”.
In writing the letter, the lawyers were following in the footsteps of Delhi High Court Judge S.N. Agarwal, who had written to Kapadia seeking a reason for his transfer in 2010. With 34 high court judges across the country transferred in “public interest” since January this year and 20 in 2010, legal experts are gathering support from the fraternity to urge the Supreme Court collegium to define what constitutes public interest. One such judge, R.S. Mohite of the Bombay High Court, resigned on September 19, 2010, after he was transferred to the Patna High Court. The case of the two judges has reignited a debate over the transfer policy of high court judges.
The lawyers want to know why Justice Mhatre, a specialist in labour law, is being considered for transfer. Her husband Nirmal is fighting a case against his employer in the high court. An employee of the Associated Cement Company, Nirmal was suspended in early 2004 for his association with the company’s trade union. He challenged