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Rebellion in the ranks: Seniormost SC judges turn against CJI and towards press as conjectures fly over MCI, Loya & more [READ LETTER]

4 SC judges Vs CJI
4 SC judges Vs CJI

The four most senior Supreme Court judges were, in an unprecedented move, “left with no other option” but to call a press conference after their private meeting with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra earlier today apparently failed to yield desired results for them.

Addressing the press the second-most senior judge Justice Jasti Chelameswar (who won’t be the next CJI) said that “we went to the CJI with a letter a few months back for a particular thing to be done in a particular way. That thing was done but in such a way that it raised further questions and left too many questions and doubts about the judiciary. Again today morning we went [...] but we failed to convince [the CJI]”, according to the NDTV broadcast of the press conference.

The conference was called by justice Chelameswar and justices Ranjan Gogoi (the next CJI from 2 October 2018), Madan B Lokur and Kurien Joseph at Chelameswar’s residence.

The judges didn't directly confirm the subject of the request they had made to the CJI, which they said they had “failed to convince him” about, but they did not deny that it could also be related to the Supreme Court's probe into (and long omerta over) the allegedly suspicious death of CBI judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who died unexpectedly before he was finished hearing the Sohrabuddin encounter case.

Though NDTV's news anchor repeatedly surmised that “judge Loya case appears to be the trigger” for the press conference, and cited justice Gogoi as saying “yes” in response to the question whether this had to do with the Justice Loya case, Justice Chelameswar also spoke about their earlier letter to the CJI.

Former Supreme Court Justice RS Sodhi said that he was “pained” that a press conference had to be called by SC judges and that despite a difference of opinion within the collegium earlier “no one went to the press. This is appalling”.

Senior advocate KTS Tulsi said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and commented to NDTV: “They are saying that all these issues which arise in public mind are to be dealt with the highest principles of natural justice one of which is that you cant be a judge in your own cause.”

The letter

The letter from judges to Misra (via WhatsApp forwards)
The letter from judges to Misra (via WhatsApp forwards)

The letter that was addressed by these four judges to Misra suggests that as “master of the roster” the CJI had not exercised his power to assign cases to various benches in accordance with conventional rules of bench composition and strength.

The judges stated in the letter:

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 strictly adhered to. There have been instances where case having far reaching consequences for the nation have been assigned by the chief justices of this court selectively to the benches “of their preference” without any rationale basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs.

They indicated that a memorandum of procedure (MoP) which had already been finalised in a Supreme Court order 2016 in the AOR Association case before it, and was sent to the government which to date has not commented on it. In the absence of the government's action the MoP stands as law by virtue of being ordered as such by the Supreme Court, and that there was no reason to make observations in a separate case in October 2017 to turn back the process and delay the MoP's adoption.

In November 2017, CJI Misra had overturned an order passed by justice Chelameswar, who had referred a Medical Council of India (MCI) scam to a constitution bench of the top court. Snubbing Justice Chelameswa, CJI Misra said that he was the master of the roster adding that judges could not assign matters to themselves, reported Janta Ka Reporter and others.

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