Mutiny in SC ranks
The four judges had left the Supreme Court in the morning to assemble at noon at Justice Chelameswar’s residence. Third in hierarchy and slated to become Chief Justice later this year, Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, “We want to discharge a debt to the nation.”
Justice Madan B Lokur said they had to “break ranks” in their effort to bring into the open undesirable happenings in the judiciary. To a question whether they had the support of other judges in the Supreme Court, Justice Lokur said, “We are speaking for the four of us, not for anyone else.”
Justice Kurian Joseph did not elaborate but agreed with what his brother-judges were disclosing.
Answering a question on remedies, the judges said, “Let the nation decide.” On impeachment, the judges reiterated that it was not for them to suggest it.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, who had a meeting with Justice Misra after the joint news conference of the judges, said it “could have been avoided” and that all judges would now have to act in “statesmanship” to ensure total harmony.
The decision of the four SC senior judges to make their grievances public, however, didn’t go down with the legal luminaries.
“As a retired judge of the Supreme Court, I feel devastated. For some reason or the other, their cause is justified, (but) relief they are seeking is wrong...going to the media? No. Judiciary was always considered as a family. Family disputes are never taken to the streets,” Justice N Santosh Hedge said.
Former high court Justice R S Sodhi, too, criticised the action of the four judges. “I am so pained at the outcome of the things... It is appalling. How can you administer Supreme Court by press conference? Are you going to hold a referendum and ask people what is right and wrong?” he said.
The four dissenting judges in the letter alleged that Chief Justice Misra had broken with conventions built over decades. Assigning cases to different judges is a privilege enjoyed by the Chief Justice; it is not recognition of his superior authority. He must follow the convention devised for disciplined and efficient transaction of court business. “He is only the first among equals – nothing more or nothing less,” the judges pointed out.
Recalling the case of Justice C S Karnan (reitred) of the Calcutta High Court, who was jailed for contempt, the letter reiterated that some judges in the Constitution Bench had suggested a review of the selection process. However, a smaller Bench of the Chief Justice made observations contrary to the decision by the Constitution Bench on the collegium. The matter should have been dealt with by a full court or a Constitution Bench. And this was just one instance, the judges wrote.
The division among senior judges over the assigning of cases has come at a time when the court is going to take up hot-button issues like the Ayodhya appeal, validity of Aadhaar, and ‘love jihad’ from Kerala.
On Friday, a two-judge Bench took up a batch of petitions raising the issue of Judge Loya.