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34 Delhi seniors find TOI report on Delhi HC judge Gita Mittal’s ‘tardy’ disposal rate ‘appalling’; demand unconditional prominent apology

Seniors didn't like TOI's journalism on Delhi judge's 'tardy' speed
Seniors didn't like TOI's journalism on Delhi judge's 'tardy' speed
The Times of India’s (TOI) report on an anonymous “tormented” litigant’s complaint to the Chief Justice of India (CJI), about Delhi high court justice Gita Mittal’s “tardy disposal” of cases, has earned flak from 34 Delhi senior advocates who have written a letter to the newspaper demanding an “unconditional apology”.

“As a respected daily with a wide circulation, the damage that your reportage has caused is incalculable. We therefore expect an unconditional apology to be prominently carried by you in your publication and a solemn assurance that in future more caution would be demonstrate[d] in reporting on such matters.

We expect that your newspaper will give the apology at least as much prominence as it has provided to the report,” reads a letter personally signed by Rajiv Nayar, Indira Jaising, Dayan Krishnan, Kirti Uppal, PV Kapur, Chetan Sharma, Sidharth Luthra, Anand Grover, Parag Tripathi, Jayant Bhushan, SK Mehra, Sandeep Sethi, Rajiv Dutta, Kailash Vasdev, Sanjeev Sindhwani, Sanjay Poddar, Gourab Banerji, AK Nigam, Ravi Sikri, Meenakshi Arora, JP Sengh, Lalit Bhasin and KV Viswanathan.

The letter, which is also endorsed by PP Rao, Fali Nariman, Soli Sorabjee, Kapil Sibal, Dushyant Dave, Huzefa Ahmadi, Kavin Gulati, Raju Ramachandran and Arvind Datar, reads:

“The manner in which this entire reportage has been undertaken exposes a larger threat to the independence of the judiciary wherein by linking justicing to misleading disposal statistics, vested interests can attempt to further a hidden agenda which may not be apparent on the surface.”

The ‘damaging’ report

According to the TOI report, a litigant Ram Prashad had given, in his letter, the complete list of disposals by justice Mittal in January 2016 and February 2016, along with the total number of pages dictated as judgments – as per the judgments uploaded on the Delhi high court’s website until 30 March. TOI stated in its report that the following figures produced in the litigant’s letter, were correct, as verified by the newspaper from the HC’s website:

In January she dictated only 63 pages – four judgments written and two short orders given. In February she dictated only 48 pages – 5 judgments and 1 order. On an average an HC judge disposes of 98 cases per day whereas Mittal disposed of less than 15 cases in the months of January and February.

The litigant’s letter, which was not only sent to the CJI but also copied in to all Supreme Court and high court judges in April, reportedly states:

“Her Lordship sits in court for hardly one hour a day and that too is spent on giving public lecture to lawyers and litigants as to how she is busy with administrative work. Her disposals are lowest by any judge of HC since she became a judge, but of late her performance has sunk so low that I am constrained to write this letter.”

The report adds: “Referring to ‘all and sundry conferences’ attended by Justice Mittal, he urged CJI Thakur to intervene and ensure that she ‘sits in court for the full duration of five hours’.”

The problem with pseudonyms

The seniors, in their letter, state that since justice Mittal’s office has confirmed that no litigant by the name of “Ram Prashad” was a party to any litigation before her, it is “apparent” that TOI has carried out “no verification or due diligence”.

TOI does state in its report that justice Mittal declined to comment when contacted and that her office confirmed the fact that no litigant by the name of “Ram Prashad” appeared before her.

But the seniors’ letter goes on to press on the point that the newspaper shouldn’t have provided a “platform” to a person using the “pseudonymous route to defame and besmirch the reputation of judges”.

“Judges are handicapped and defenceless as they only speak through their judgments. The entire justice delivery system will be imperilled should persons be permitted to use the pseudonymous route to defame and besmirch the reputation of judges. The manner in which the newspaper has provided a platform for such action is also equally appalling.”

The letter also offers several justifications for why justice Mittal may be disposing of lesser cases than the other HC judges, and talks about justice Mittal’s “sustained efforts in chambers, often over hours, to actually root out the entire conflict between the parties instead of just disposing of the immediate case or application.”

But TOI in its report covers this aspect, stating that justice Mittal’s chamber pointed out that many matters under her jurisdiction are family or matrimonial cases involving “patient” in chamber proceedings. It also covers comments from lawyers testifying to justice Mittal’s compassion and patience – another aspect which the seniors write about in their letter.

Read letter (PDF)

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