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Katju feels humiliated by 'surgical' contempt strike & eviction from SC ‘like common vagabond’ by his ‘junior’ Gogoi (about whom he’d been quite rude)

Katju seems genuinely upset and surprised that the SC has hit him with contempt after years of apparent immunity

Katju meets his angry match, doesn't seem to like it...
Katju meets his angry match, doesn't seem to like it...

A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, together with justices PC Pant and UU Lalit, issued a contempt notice on retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju in a review petition in the Soumya murder case to which Gogoi had last month surprisingly invited Katju to argue in.

Unfortunately, contrary to the hopes of some commentators such as Prerana Saraf posting on the Practical Academic blog, explaining the background of the case, there was not much argument on the facts or law of the case between the bench and Katju.

It was, however, a dramatic hearing, with Gogoi telling Katju, “You are provoking us”, having asked security “is there somebody to escort Justice Katju out?”.

Katju responded with “what is this behaviour. On your request I came here. Is this the way I am to be treated.”, and told the judges to use “some common sense”, “this is a free country. I have a right to say what I want”, "first learn to be modest. This is not the way Supreme Court judges should behave. Don’t provoke me”.

Gogoi responded with “you are provoking us”, then Katju replied “I came here on your invite and I am sorry it has come to this”, and Gogoi agreed, saying “we are sorry too” before passing his contempt order (via The Hindu, which has the fullest account of proceedings).

Today, in a post on Facebook today, Katju claimed Gogoi had carried out a "surgical strike" to humiliate him because he violated the "judicial omerta" and dared criticise the bench:

For long I have been speaking out against the misdeeds of Dattu, Thakur, Anil Dave, and their ilk. So apart from ostracising me ( I am never invited to parties by judges and senior lawyers where retired judges are often invited ) my guess about the event yesterday in Gogoi's courtroom is that a 'surgical strike' was pre planned by Thakur, Dave etc. in cahoots with Gogoi to humiliate me and issue a contempt of court notice to me in order to silence me, and also give a warning to others not to speak out about the misdeeds of judges.

Yesterday in Gogoi's courtroom, where I had come in connection with Soumya's case, I had sat in the front row of lawyers, but I noticed that in the second row many people in plainclothes, who I later realized were security people, were sitting. Evidently Gogoi had shamelessly ordered them earlier to sit there ( though those chairs were meant for lawyers ), and Gogoi had pre planned to have me physically thrown out of the courtroom at some juncture. The whole 'hearing' in Gogoi's courtroom was a drama, as I later realized

This is the shameless level to which people like Gogoi and others who planned all this drama can sink.

The blogs & alleged contempt

Katju had blogged and posted on Facebook on 16 September and 17 September and about why the Supreme Court was wrong in acquitting the convict in the Soumya case of murder (and setting aside the death penalty). He made the argument that intention is irrelevant to finding murder if the accused has inflicted a potentially deathly wound on the victim, and that the court had wrongly considered hearsay evidence of Soumya having jumped from the train herself (in court yesterday he said: “So how does it matter if she jumped out of the moving train or was pushed out? She was trying to escape a murderous assault. Do you expect the girl to stay on in the train and die?”).

However, Katju had also followed that up on 18 September with a blog post headed "The intellectual level of Supreme Court judges", in which he said: “While some of them have high intellectual level and character, like Justice Chalameshwar and Justice Nariman, the vast majority of the present Supreme Court Judges are people of very low intellectual level”, criticising various judgments and their authors for “lack of judicial discipline, seeking only popular adulation”, “throwing the Constitution and the law to the winds”, “violating his oath to uphold the secular Constitution”,

In particular Kajtu had laid into Gogoi, who had handed down the Soumya judgment, saying: “Justice Gogoi, who is in line to become the Chief Justice of India on the basis of seniority, has shown that he does not know an elementary principle of law, namely that hearsay evidence is not admissible ( see paragraph 16 of his judgment in the Soumya murder case ). I can go on and on about most of the present Supreme Court judges to show how low is their intellectual level, but that is not necessary.”

Obviously, as any Katju watcher would know, this is not the first time that Katju has picked a fight with the judiciary and individual judges on his blog, accusing them of corruption, incompetence and worse (read some of our previous Katju related articles or click through his blog and you’ll find plenty of examples).

Katju’s account of yesterday

Katju’s account of yesterday’s hearing, now posted on his blog, appeared wounded and twice referred to Gogoi making unspecified “sarcastic comments”, and not being interested in Katju’s legal submissions:

When I stood up at 2 p.m., and before I could speak, Gogoi said “ We can give you only 30 minutes to argue “. I submitted that I could not possibly make my submissions in 30 minutes as many facts had to be explained, and I needed at least 1 hour. After all, it was the Supreme Court which had requested me to appear, and I had not come on my own. I had spent many days ( and nights ) preparing my submissions. Reluctantly Gogoi agreed.

I started by quoting Lord Denning who said that the judge has not been born who has not made a mistake.

At this Gogoi got annoyed. He interrupted and said “ Don’t give us such lectures, and come to the point.”.

I kept tolerating such insults from Gogoi, who was much junior to me as a judge, and evidently does not know how to behave to his elders and seniors.

I then argued for about 45 minutes. During this period Gogoi made many sarcastic comments like “ Drink some water “, and only pretended to be hearing me ( because none of my submissions were noticed in the order he passed ).

When I began submitting that the Supreme Court had committed a grave error of law in relying on the statement of a middle agent man who was never produced in Court, and wanted to give my reasons, Gogoi rudely interjected me, and said that if I persisted in this argument some action may have to be taken against me because of some other blogs I had written regarding the Soumya case. This was a clear threat by Gogoi to me, and I responded by saying that he can do whatever he wants.

According to reports and Katju’s own account, instead of going into the legal arguments, Gogoi pulled out copies of Katju’s blog posts and, after getting attorney general Mukul Rohatgi to read out portions of the posts.

The PTI had reported:

The Supreme Court issued notice after taking the view of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi who was shown a copy of the blog which he described as “scandalous”. Taking note of this, the bench said “we are issuing notice of contempt”. Taken aback Rohatgi said his view was restricted only to the underlined portion of what he was shown as he had not read the entire blog.

“I am changing my position and I am reading the entire page. The underlined portion is intemperate and nothing beyond,” he said. When the bench pointed to the other part of the Katju’s blog which was not underlined by it, Rohatgi said the second one is also intemperate. Justice Katju repeatedly said he has appeared before the bench and it should not have threatened as he was also a senior to the judges on the bench.

According to Katju, “I had thought that the bench presided over by Justice Gogoi genuinely wanted my assistance to reconsider and review Soumya’s case, in which I felt grave injustice had been done. As the hearing proceeded I realized this was not so, and it was just a pre-arranged drama organized by Gogoi , and there was no genuine intention to review Soumya’s case, but only a pretence to do so, and make it an occasion to humiliate me and then issue contempt of court notice against me.”

Apparently, Katju was also particularly upset with Gogoi not according him the respect he thought he was due, by virtue of being more senior than Gogoi (albeit retired). Katju wrote:

I kept tolerating such insults from Gogoi, who was much junior to me as a judge, and evidently does not know how to behave to his elders and seniors...

I had been a Supreme Court Judge when all these 3 had been High Court Judges. Pant had in fact been a Joint Registrar in Allahabad high court when I had been a Judge there, but today he addressed me as Mr. Katju, although there is a Govt. of India notification which says that a retired Supreme Court and High Court Judges are to be addressed as ‘ Justice ‘.

That said, Katju’s latest blog seems rather less combative than some of his previous posts, perhaps mindful of a potential future jail term possible under contempt laws, closing with his rebuttal about Gogoi ordering Katju escorted out of court: “I had come here at your request. Is this how a former judge of the Supreme Court is to be treated ? Is this how sitting Supreme Court judges should behave? Am I to be thrown out of Court like a common vagabond ?”

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