Your honour at stake

Your honour at stake

It is important that the government and the entire society work towards restoring the credibility of the judiciary at all levels so that it dispenses justice without fear or favour

Sanjay Kapoor

Recently a few media organisations in the capital got a copy of the ‘threatening’ letter that had been sent to Justice Lakshmanan of the Supreme Court who was hearing the review petition against the earlier apex court’s order asking the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe into charges against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav possessing ‘assets disproportionate to known sources of income’. The letter upset the judge so much that he got extremely emotional during the open hearing and excused himself from the case. He did not really elaborate on the nature of the threat against him if he chose to give relief to Yadav, but it was clear the contents of the letter were serious enough to knock the steady judge off his feet. The media organisations found the contents of the letter quite scurrilous and displayed responsibility by not publishing it. This prompted the litigant who had filed the PIL against Mulayam to demand that the letter be made public, but the court has yet to take a view on his plea. Till the letter is made public, rumours of the alleged contents would gain credibility in media, judicial and political circles. Were there allegations of corruption in delivering judgments or did the letter claim anything about the judge’s progeny that shocked him?

Ideally, the judge should have taken these allegations head on and summoned both sides and blasted them for trying to browbeat the court through these devises and delivered his verdict on the review petition on merit, but the honourable judge took the easy way out lending grist to the rumour mill.

This is not the first time that a judge has received such a threat. During the famous Hawala case, one of the judges hearing the case claimed that he received threatening calls. Invariably, the accused in such cases — many of them very rich and extremely powerful — pull out all stops to get a favourable verdict. If they cannot do that they summon all their resources to corrupt the judges and delay the trial. Rumours abound in the bar about how judgments are fixed. The possibility exists that many of these allegations are baseless — spread by those who have lost the case, but recent happenings suggest that many of them could also be true. This impression has been buttressed by media reports about the president resisting the appointments of chief justices of high courts on the issue of corruption allegations. Invariably, the president has been prevailed upon as these judges have enjoyed the backing of the Supreme Court, which plays a key role in these appointments. Highly placed sources claim that on many cases, the appointments go contrary to the intelligence reports about their integrity, but governments have refused to interfere in the process in the hope that the higher judiciary would filter out bad elements.

Eminent Supreme Court lawyer, Shanti Bhushan, in a media interview had criticised the manner in which Justice Vijender Jain and Justice Bhalla have been appointed as chief justices of high courts even when there were serious charges of corruption against them. He made a scandalous suggestion that Justice Jain “demolished half of Delhi till the Judicial Accountability Bill was diluted and he was made chief justice.” He also claimed that the reputation of the former chief justice of India, YK Sabharwal, who backed Justice Jain, was in “serious doubt”. What is worse is that his remarks were allowed to go uncontested by the court. If they were not true, he should have been hauled up.

Whatever maybe the veracity of these allegations, the truth is that the judiciary has been grappling with the issue of corruption for quite a while. Things came to a head when Delhi High Court Judge, Shamit Mukherjee, was arrested by the CBI for malfeasance. His conversations were tapped by the agency where he demanded call girls for “massage” and other favours. Mukherjee was one of those unfortunate judges who was caught, but there have been many others whose conversations with wheeler dealers fixing deals have been allegedly recorded by the intelligence agencies in the past, but they have managed to prosper and retire peacefully.

Many years ago, a CBI boss got information that currency in crores was parked in a judge’s house. Known for his reckless ways, he wanted to raid the senior judge’s residence, but he was stopped in his tracks by the prime minister of the day who thought that his act could strike a death blow to judiciary. The higher judiciary may have survived such an ignominy then, but it is important that the government and the entire society work towards restoring the credibility of the judiciary at all levels so that it dispenses justice without fear or favour.

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