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Judges blow the whistle on alleged improprieties in Supreme Court

Four of the most Supreme Court judges today held a press conference for what they said was to “discharge their debt towards the nation” and to put it on the record that they had not “sold their souls”.

They alleged that there are certain things that are not proper that are going on in the Supreme Court.

Details of the allegations will be released in a letter, the justices said.

Besides No.2 Justice J Chelameswar, others who attended are Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph.

The following are the main points of the press conference as spoken by the justices.

MAIN POINTS

It’s an extraordinary event in the history of the nation.

We have no pleasure in calling for a press conference.

The administration of the SC is not in order. Many things that are less than desirable have happened in the last few months.

We, as the seniormost judges, tried to persuade the CJI that certain things are not in order and therefore he should take remedial measures. Unfortunately, we failed.

Unless this institution is preserved, democracy will not survive.

Even in the morning, on a particular issue, four of us went to the CJI with a specific request, but could not unfortunately convince him.

Therefore, we were left with no option, but to communicate to the nation to please take care of the institution, take care of this nation.

We don’t want wisemen, 20 years later, to say that Justice Chelameswar, Justice Joseph.. had sold their souls. We don’t want the institution to be sick.

About a couple of months back, four of us gave a letter to the CJI.  We suggested that a certain thing should be done in a certain manner. It was done, but it was done in such a manner that it raised further questions about the integrity of the institution.

We will give you a copy of the letter which we had written two months back. All the issues are spelt out there. Go through it, you will know all the issues.

We are not running politics here. We don’t want to make statements and someone else makes another statement.

(On whether the CJI should be impeached) We are not saying anything, let the nation decide.

It’s a discharge of our debt to the nation, and we believe that we have discharged our debt to the nation by telling you this.

We are not breaking ranks. We are speaking for ourselves. We have not consulted anyone else, since, we are the four seniormost judges.

REACTION

The letter primary deals with the incident regarding allegations of bribery against judges in a medical college case (see below).

Lawyer and politician Subramanian Swamy said he was happy that the judges brought the matter out.

“They were agonizing.. and I am happy that they have done it. To resolve this matter, would require, in my opinion, an intervention of the Prime Minister… They should be respected for taking this to the public.”

“It was both unfortunate and welcome move that they have come out with it,” said noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

“They have carried out their constitutional duty,” said Bhushan, adding that they have warned the whole nation about how, in his words, the CJI is misusing his powers.

LETTER

You can read the full text of the letter at the bottom of this article.

CONTROVERSY

The press conference is a rare event as generally, judges and justices do not air their views publicly.

These are the four seniormost judges in the SC other than the CJI.

The press conference is expected to be around some alleged procedural lapses in the Supreme Court, related to decisions taken by the Collegium.

There have been some murmurs of discontent about some actions of the leadership of the Indian judiciary.

The Indian judiciary is headed by Deepak Misra, Chief Justice of India.

Recently, a bench headed by the Chief Justice over-ruled justice Chelameswar in a corruption case.

Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer had in November set up a five-judge bench to hear a case of alleged bribery of judges in which a retired judge of Orissa High Court, Justice Ishrat Masroor Quddusi, is an accused.

However, in a dramatic development, the CJI set up a five-judge bench headed by him and overturned the order of the two-judge bench, saying the Chief Justice had the sole prerogative of setting up a bench and allocating matters.

This was opposed by Prashant Bhushan, who was representing an NGO ‘Campaign for Judicial Accountability’ seeking a probe into corruption case allegedly involving several judges.

“What FIR against me? It is nonsense. There is not a word in the FIR naming me. Read our orders first. I feel sorry. You are liable for contempt now,” Chief Justice Deepak Misra had said, dismissing Bhushan’s objection.

A Supreme Court bench also imposed Rs 25 lakhs as ‘costs’ on Prashant Bhushan.

This was imposed for pursing the case “without any remorse by questioning the decision rendered on the subject matter by this court including the plea taken in the earlier petition, as noted in paragraph 29 of the said decision, is gross abuse of the process of court.”

“Though it is true, that none of us is above law; no person in the higher echelons is above the law but, at the same time, it is the duty of both the Bar and the Bench, to protect the dignity of the entire judicial system. We find that filing of such petitions and the zest, with which it is pursued, has brought the entire system in the last few days to unrest. An effort was made to create ripples in this Court; serious and unwanted shadow of doubt has been created for no good reason whatsoever by way of filing the petition which was wholly scandalous and ought not to have been filed in such a method and manner,” the bench had noted.

FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER

Dear Chief Justice,

It is with great anguish and concern that we have thought it proper to address this letter to you so as to highlight certain judicial orders passed by this Court which has adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivery system and the independence of the High Courts besides impacting the administrative functioning of the Office of the Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India.

From the date of establishment of three chartered High Courts of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, certain traditions and conventions in the judicial administration have been well established. The traditions were embraced by this Court which came into existence almost a century after the above mentioned chartered High Courts. These traditions have their roots in the anglo saxon jurisprudence and practice.

One of the well settled principles is that the chief justice is the master of the roster with the privilege to determine the roster, necessity in multi-numbered courts for an orderly transaction of business and appropriate arrangements with respect to matters with which member/bench of this court (as the case may be) is required to deal with which case or class of cases is to be made. The convention of recognising the privilege of the chief justice to form the roster and assign cases to different members/benches of the court is a convention designed for a disciplined and efficient transaction of business of the court but not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual, of the chief justice over his colleagues. It is too well settled in the jurisprudence of this country that the chief justice is only the first amongst equals — nothing more or nothing less. In the matter of the determination of the roster there are well-settled and time-honoured conventions guiding the chief justice, be the conventions dealing with the strength of the bench which is required to deal with a particular case or the composition thereof.

A necessary corollary to the above mentioned principle is that any multi numbered judicial body including this Court will not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition wise and strength wise with due regard to the roster fixed.

Any departure from the above two rules would not only lead to unpleasant and undesirable consequences of creating doubt in the body politic about the integrity of the institution. Not to talk about the chaos that would result from such departure.

We are sorry to say that off late the twin rules mentioned above have not been adhered to. There have been instances where case having far reaching consequences for the Nation and the institution had been assigned by the chief justices of the court selectively to the benches “of their preference” without any rational basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs.

We are not mentioning details only to avoid embarrassing the institution but note that such departures have already damaged the image of this institution to some extent.

In the above context we deem it proper to address you presently with regard to the Order dated 27th October, 2017 in R.P. Luthra vs. Union of India to the effect that there should be no further delay in finalizing the Memorandum of Procedure in the larger public interest. When the Memorandum of Procedure was the subject matter of a decision of a Constitution Bench of this Court in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association and Anr. vs. Union of India [ (2016) 5 SCC 1] it is difficult to understand as to how any other Bench could have dealt with the matter.

The above apart, subsequent to the decision of the Constitution Bench, detailed discussions were held by the Collegium of five judges (including yourself) and the Memorandum of Procedure was finalized and sent by the then Hon’ble the Chief justice of India to the government of India in March 2017. The Government of India has not responded to the communication and in view of this silence, it must be taken that the Memorandum of Procedure as finalized by the Collegium has been accepted by the Government of India on the basis of the order of this Court in Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record-Association (Supra). There was, therefore, no occasion for the Bench to make any observation with regard to the finalization of the Memorandum of Procedure or that that issue cannot linger on for an indefinite period.

On 4th July, 2017, a Bench of seven Judges of this Court decided InRe, Hon’ble Shre Justice C.S. Karnan (2017) 1SCC 1]. In that decision (refer to in R.P.Luthra), two of us observed that there is a need to revisit the process of appointment of judges and to set up a mechanism for corrective measures other than impeachment. No observation was made by any of the seven learned judges with regard to the Memorandum of Procedure.

Any issue with regard to the Memorandum of Procedure should be discussed in the Chief Justices’ Conference and by the Full Court. Such a matter of grave importance, if a all required t be taken on the judicial side, should be dealt with by none other than a Constitution Bench.

The above development must be viewed with serious concern. The Hon’ble Chief Justice of India is duty bound to rectify the situation and take appropriate remedial measures after a full discussion with the other members of the Collegium and at a later state, if required, with other Hon’ble Judges of this Court.

Once the issue arising from the order dated 27th October, 2017 in R.P.Luthra vs. Union of India, mentioned above, is adequately addressed by you and if it becomes so necessary, we will apprise you specifically of the other judicial orders passed by this Court which would require to be similarly dealt with.

With kind regards

J.Chellameshwar

Ranjan Gogoi

Madan B. Lokur

Kurian Joseph

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