SC Dismisses Jaiswal Bribery Petition as Contempt, Forum Shopping
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court today dismissed a petition asking for a court-monitored special investigation of allegations over bribes accepted by a medical college to fix cases, on the grounds of contempt and forum shopping.
The petition, filed by senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal, is related to an ongoing CBI investigation into the allegations that a retired Orissa High Court judge took money to influence a case against the college in the Supreme Court, which was being heard at the time by current Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
Justices RK Agarwal, AK Mishra and AM Khanwilkar found that the allegations made in the PIL and argued by Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan against the CJI were “derogatory and contemptuous”. In addition, they found that the petition amounted to ‘forum shopping’, as the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform (CJAR) had already filed a petition in the Supreme Court which was asking for the same thing.
No Contempt Proceedings, But Cooperation Urged
Despite finding that the petitioner and her lawyers had committed contempt of court, the bench decided not to punish them for this, and instead urged lawyers to work together with judges for the welfare of the legal institution.
The judges had been looking into the validity and propriety of Ms Jaiswal’s petition, and had conducted a hearing in the matter yesterday. The case had previously come up for hearing last Thursday, when Justices J Chelameshwar and Abdul Nazeer had decided it needed to be referred to a Constitution Bench consisting of the five senior-most judges of the apex court.
On Friday, the CJI took up the separate CJAR petition, and overruled Justice Chelameshwar and Justice Nazeer’s order, appointing the current bench to hear the matter instead.
Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, appearing for Ms Jaiswal, had argued before the judges that the CJI should never have taken up the matter because of the potential conflict of interest, and that it was also wrong of him to overrule the earlier order without taking up this case. He had, however, denied that the petition was making any direct accusations against the CJI.
Ms Jaiswal’s Reaction
Speaking to The Quint after the release of the judgment, Ms Jaiswal said that:
One bench of the Supreme Court [Justice Chelameshwar and Justice Nazeer] says this is a serious matter and refers it to a Constitution Bench. Another dismisses the whole thing without looking into the issues. What is the message that this sends to the public? How do you reconcile these two contrary positions? The Supreme Court should be speaking with one voice.
Ms Jaiswal was particularly disappointed with the findings of contempt by the three judge bench, and its belief that the case was an attempt to denigrate the judiciary. To the contrary, she said,
The entire point of the petition was to protect the judiciary from interference by the executive, to get the case out of the clutches of the CBI who answer to the government and may not treat the case with the sensitivity it requires. At no point did the petition aver that any of the judges of the Supreme Court were named in the FIR, we only pointed out that the circumstances referred to in the FIR would point to certain judges.
Ms Jaiswal also expressed her dissatisfaction that today’s judgment did not engage with the merits of the petition, i.e., the need for an independent investigation, instead dismissing it without examining those issues.
Senior Advocate Mohan Parasaran expressed a similar view on the court’s failure to deal with the merits, and believed that the judges’ contention that Ms Jaiswal’s petition was an act of forum shopping could have been resolved by simply tagging hers along with the CJAR petition and hearing the merits together.
According to him,
It was his opinion that the manner in which this whole series of events has taken place has been unsatisfactory. While he felt that Justice Chelameshwar and Justice Nazeer’s original order exceeded their authority, the manner in which the matter has been handled and Ms Jaiswal’s petition dismissed, “sends the wrong signal to the outside world, and gives the wrong impression about the functioning of the judiciary.”
Other Petition Still to be Listed
The petition filed by CJAR has not yet been disposed of. On Friday, the CJI had said that he would constitute a separate bench to hear that matter in the next couple of weeks.
While that petition is not likely to be struck down for forum shopping, the findings on contempt in this case would very likely apply in that case.
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