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The Press Conference by SC judges and its aftermath

In what could be called as an unprecedented and unheard of events, four sitting judges of Supreme Court- Justices J.Chelameshwar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph- rattled all alike by not holding it back and held a press conference (first of its kind by sitting judges of highest institution of country) at Justice Chelameshwar’s residence at noon today bringing forth certain confidential things which appear to have been brewing up since long.

The Press conference ended on some serious concerns raised by judges which they believe are of seminal importance and alone forced them to speak out in public as Justice Chelameshwar noted in his own words:
“This is an extraordinary event in the history of this institution. It was no pleasure of ours to call this press conference. But sometimes, the administration of the Supreme Court seems not to be in order.”

Speaking for himself and his three fellow judges on this daring step, Justice Chelameshwar said, “We are speaking for ourselves. We four went in the morning and did not discuss anything with anyone else.”

Justice Ranjan Gogoi underscoring the importance of being indebted to nation said, “We have discharged our debt to the nation. I do not think there is anything more that needs to be said.”

The Judges speaking on the much felt need of coming out in public and not being called as “sellouts” said:

“We tried to collectively convince the Chief Justice [of India] that some measures need to be taken for improvement, but we have failed. Even this morning, on a particular issue, four of us went and met CJI, but couldn’t convince him. So we were left with no choice but to communicate to the nation. We don’t want someone to say that we sold our souls. We place it before the people of this country.”

The main cause behind this appears to be the listing of the petition filed calling for an investigation into the death of Special CBI judge BH Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin case. The Judges also shared a letter written by the four of them to the Chief Justice of India a few months ago. Read more here.

In the letter, the four judges express their “great anguish and concern” to “highlight certain judicial orders passed by this Court which has adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivery system.”

The letter further goes on to emphasize on certain rules of procedure that the Court has relied on since inception. One of those rules is the fact that “the Chief Justice is the master of the roster, with a privilege to determine the roster …”

“A necessary corollary to the above mentioned principle is the members of any multi numbered judicial body including this Court would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition wise and strength wise with due regard to the roster fixed.”

Expressing their strong anguish over the failure to adhere to the twin rules, the letter states further:

“We are sorry to say that off later the twin rules mentioned above have not been strictly adhered to. There have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences for the Nation and the institution had been assigned by the Chief Justices of this Court selectively to the benches “of their preference” without any rational basis for such assignment. This must be guarded against at all costs.”

The issue surrounding the Memorandum of Procedure(“MoP”) has also been dealt with in the letter.

“…there should be no further delay in finalising the Memorandum of Procedure in the larger public interest. When the Memorandum of Procedure was the subject matter of a decision of a Constitution Bench…it is difficult to understand as to how any other Bench could have dealt with the matter.”

Further on the MoP issue, the letter reads:

“Any issue with respect to the Memorandum of Procedure should be discussed in the Chief Justices’ Conference and by the Full Court. Such a matter of grave importance, if at all required to be taken on the judicial side, should be dealt with by none other than a Constitution Bench.”

Referring to the case of In Re, Hon’ble Justice Shri Justice C.S Karnan, the letter states that two of them in the said judgment have already observed that there is a need to revisit the process of appointment of judges. Thus, keeping in mind the aforementioned scenario, it has been urged that the Chief Justice of India works towards rectifying the situation and have discussions with other members of the Collegium.

This action of the SC judges received got mixed reviews. Some Supreme Court judges reportedly called the press meet “extraordinary”. Former Law Minister Salman Khurshid said that he was anguished by the deep differences amongst judges and hoped that they would get together again as a “family” for preservation of sanctity of judicial institution. The Government seems not be jumping the gun and taking these overall rattling developments slowly however at the same time government sources said that press meet brought inner things out in public domain as two more judges are believed to have joined 4 judges at Chelameshwar’s residence.

However, it seems like on the heels of this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to take a briefing on the matter. How Executive will eventually take this will surely be an interesting development for all to see given the much debated NJAC issue earlier.

It is pertinent to note that notice has been issued by the Bench of Justices Arun Misra and M M Shantanagoudar to the Maharashtra Government over Judge Loya’s death seeking status report from Fadnavis Government by January 15.

No reaction has yet come from the Chief Justice of India.

With inputs from Shayesta Nazir.

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