New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a public interest litigation urging a SIT (special investigation team) probe into the allegations of bribery against the top court’s judges, including Chief Justice Dipak Misra, holding that no such allegations figure in the CBI FIR cited in the petition.
A 3-judge Bench, headed by Justice R K Agarwal, slammed the senior advocates for pushing the “derogatory and contemptuous” petition with “irresponsible allegations” that had maligned the image of the judiciary and raised unnecessary doubts about the integrity of a great institution.
The Special Bench, also comprising Justices Arun Mishra and A M Khanwilkar, constituted by the CJI to quickly put an end to the raging controversy, in a 38-page judgement, also noted that no one, including the judges, are above the law of the land. It, however, said the allegation of judicial corruption against the judges was not based on fact as a CBI FIR referred by the petitioners does not name any judge of the Supreme Court.
The Bench slammed the senior advocates for filing two identically worded petitions for “forum hunting,” one by the Commission of Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) of senior advocate Prashant Bhushan and another by senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal, who is also a member of the CJAR.
Controversy arose from the FIR registered by the CBI against half a dozen persons, including retired Orissa High Court judge Ishrat Masroor Quddisi, for an alleged conspiracy to secure a favourable judgment from the Bench headed by the CJI for a private Lucknow medical college.
Justice Arun Mishra did not spare even the CBI, questioning how such an FIR can be filed that discredits the top court by creating doubts about the judiciary. “If these kinds of FIRs are filed discrediting the institution, no judge will be spared,” he said, warning the petitioners that they were denigrating the entire institution on the basis of rumours.
He went on to wonder whether the judges could be blamed for any claims made outside the court by a third party. “Anybody can say anything, sell anybody in the corridors. How can you attribute motive to judges?”
Former union law minister Shanti Bhushan and his senior advocate-turned activist son Prashant Bhushan argued before the Bench on behalf of another senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal, whose petition before the 2-judge Bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar, the second senior-most after the CJI, created high tension drama in the Apex Court.
Though a Constitution Bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra had on Friday quashed the Chelameswar bench’s order sending the matter to a 5-judge Bench of the senior-most judges, Shanti Bhushan insisted on referring it to such a Bench because of the apprehensions of the CJI’s direct involvement in the case. He had argued that the CJI should recuse from the Constitution Bench since the FIR charges were linked with a case he had dealt with earlier.
Senior Bhushan had insisted that the Bench could not hear the matter since it was constituted by the CJI and he even asked Justice Khanwilkar to recuse himself since he too was on the Bench referred in the FIR. The court on Tuesday rebuffed the senior advocate for making such a demand and recorded that no written application was filed for recusal of Justice Khanwilkar who was a member of the Bench that had disposed of the matter of Lucknow’s Prasad Education Trust on 18.09.2017.
Stressing that there was no reasonable basis to pray for recusal of Justice Khanwilkar, the court said: “In our opinion that amounts to contempt of court and an attempt at forum hunting….It is far-fetched and too tenuous to submit that any judge of this court, much less Justice Khanwilkar, has any interest in the subject matter…’’
It went on to record: “We cannot fall prey to such unscrupulous devices adopted by the litigants, so as to choose the Benches, as that is a real threat to the very existence of the system itself and it would be denigrated in case we succumb to such pressure tactics.”