The petition had sought that a special investigative team headed by a former chief justice of SC to replace the ongoing CBI probe.
Verdict: In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court Tuesday dismissed a writ petition seeking a judicial probe into allegations that attempts were made to bribe SC judges to influence cases.
A three-judge bench comprising justices R.K. Agrawal, Arun Mishra and A.M. Khanwilkar had heard lawyers Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner Kamini Jaiswal. The petition had sought that a special investigative team headed by a former chief justice of SC to replace the ongoing CBI probe.
The CBI has lodged an FIR suggesting a conspiracy involving a former judge of the Orrisa High Court to bribe judges of the apex court to influence the ruling in the case. The accused are directors of a Lucknow-based medical college that moved the SC seeking licence for this academic year.
Since the case was heard by the chief justice just a day before the CBI lodged its FIR, the petitioner had requested that he recuse from exercising administrative or judicial powers in the matter.
Context: This case was first heard by a bench of justices J. Chelameswar and Abdul Nazeer on 9 November and was referred to a constitution bench of five-senior most judges of the court. However, on 10 November, the chief justice constituted a five-judge bench and recalled the earlier order on the grounds that as the administrative head of the court only he has the prerogative to allocate cases.
The case was then passed on to the current three judge bench chosen by the chief justice.
Questions before the court:
1. Why a judicial probe is not necessary? The court says that the FIR does not make any connection to a judge of the higher judiciary and hence a judicial probe is not required.
2. Do the CJI’s directives constituting this bench and the five-judge bench amount to conflict of interest?
3. Did mentioning this petition before Chelameswar when an identical plea was pending before another bench amount to forum shopping and contempt of court?
4. On ‘damage done to the reputation of the judiciary’
Impact: There have been criticisms over the apex court’s handling of this case. The government, office of the attorney general and the Supreme Court Bar Association have said that such a petition should not have been filed at all. The allegations may or may not be true but the manner of dealing with allegations against itself has exposed the fragility of the institution’s own rules of accountability and deep fault lines between the top judges.
Key references: 1. Dr. D.C. Saxena vs Chief Justice of India (1996) 5 SCC 216 – Case that decided that when there is an allegation against the chief justice of India, it is he, who has to assign the case to a bench, as considered appropriate by him.
2. K. Veeraswami vs Union of India (1991) 3 SCC 655 – Case that lays down law on prosecution of judges.