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Not just Arun Mishra, these 6 SC judges have also lost their cool in court in recent years

Tempers fray when the bar & bench interact daily on various issues, but an unsaid rule discourages emotional outbursts. 

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New Delhi: When Justice Arun Mishra lost his cool with senior lawyer Gopal Sankaranarayanan during a hearing Tuesday, it wasn’t an unheard of occurrence. 

Tempers fray when the bar and bench interact daily on various issues in a courtroom, but it is often an unsaid rule that anger, or in fact any explicit emotion, has to be kept at bay.

Even so, in recent years, judges have not only lost their cool on occasion but also garnered a reputation of being “angry”.

Be it former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi or his predecessors Dipak Misra and J.S. Khehar, several judges have violated that unsaid rule of courtroom conduct.


Also Read: SC slams Bombay HC for ‘unintelligible’ order, but courts are full of convoluted rulings


Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi 

“We are always angry,” former CJI Gogoi said on 13 February this year, when lawyer and former law minister Ashwani Kumar argued that the court had not heard him properly and urged the bench to not be “upset”.

“We are always angry,” Gogoi replied. “Our anger has no meaning because we are always angry.”

Soon after taking office, CJI Gogoi also appeared annoyed with lawyers listing matters as “urgent” to secure immediate hearings. No urgent mentioning would take place before him, he said, unless it’s a matter of life or death. 

“Sorry, we won’t hear any mentioning matters… 500 cases are listed. Where are the judges? And you keep on mentioning…” Gogoi told lawyers, also expressing exasperation about vacancies in the top court. 

Also, who can forget the infamous courtroom exchange between Justice Gogoi and former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju in November 2016? After a verbal spat with Katju over his criticism of an order issued by the court, Gogoi called for security guards to escort him out. However, the CJI abandoned the plan at the request of others in the courtroom. 

Justice Kurian Joseph

Justice Joseph (Retd), who mostly maintained a calm composure, expressed anger in uncommon ways. In 2015, his anger took the shape of a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

An important conference for judges and chief ministers was organised by the then Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu on Good Friday. When Joseph said he would be in Kerala to observe Good Friday with his family, Dattu reportedly cited the precedence of “institutional interest” to refuse any postponement.

Since the invitation came from the Prime Minister’s Office, Joseph even wrote to PM Modi, urging him to be mindful of occasions of religious significance while planning such events.

On 12 January 2018, he and Gogoi were among the four judges who held the unprecedented press conference to express reservations about the functioning of the Supreme Court under Justice Dipak Misra.  

Justice Dipak Misra 

Justice Misra, who was known to be calm, lost his cool during a hearing on the alleged medical college bribery scam, when senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan alleged his involvement. The case pertained to allegations that there was a bid to bribe Supreme Court judges to influence the outcome of a matter pertaining to a medical college.

During the hearing on 10 November 2017, Misra asked Bhushan to read out the part of the FIR where he was named. When Bhushan read the FIR, the former CJI said, “Mr Bhushan, I am really sorry but now you are liable for contempt. But you are not worthy of even contempt.”

Bhushan then stormed out of the courtroom. 

Also, it was after a heated exchange with CJI Misra in December 2017, during a hearing on power distribution between the Delhi lieutenant governor and chief minister, that senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan briefly quit court practice.

The exchange erupted on 6 December, when Dhavan was reportedly denied the opportunity to wrap up arguments in the case, with the CJI asking him to submit them in writing instead. “You go on shouting. You are always like that. We will give our judgment,” the CJI told Dhavan, who was representing the Delhi administration against the lieutenant governor.  

The same week, Dhavan had another run-in with the CJI as the former raised his voice while arguing that hearings in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case be deferred until after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. 

Soon afterwards, on 11 December 2017, Dhavan quit legal practice briefly. In a two-sentence letter addressed to the CJI, he said, “After the humiliating end to the Delhi (vs Centre) case, I have decided to give up court practice.”

However, two weeks later, Dhavan retracted his statement via another letter to the chief justice. 

Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman

Nariman has been known to lose his temper time and again. 

One well-known instance is from April, when the sexual harassment allegations against former CJI Gogoi first emerged. 

A lawyer, Utsav Bains, claimed to have documents that proved there was a conspiracy afoot to frame the CJI. When Bains reportedly launched a retort to something said by attorney general K.K. Venugopal on 24 April 2019, it did not go down well with Nariman. 

“If you don’t (respect the A-G), not even an iota of doubt, we will throw you out immediately. He is the senior-most member of the Bar,” Nariman told Bains, who then offered to leave the courtroom.

Another involved a lawyer who named Nariman’s father, the legal doyen Fali Nariman, to buttress his argument about judicial nepotism. 

Mathews J. Nedumpara, arguing on behalf of the National Lawyers Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms, said on 5 March that judges of the Supreme Court were wholly unfit to designate persons as ‘senior advocates’ as they only favoured their relatives. 

When he mentioned senior advocate Fali S. Nariman, the bench cautioned him not to do so. When Nedumpara tried to justify his act, without explaining its relevance to the case, the bench took offence and held that he was doing so only to browbeat the court and embarrass Justice Rohinton Nariman.

On 27 March, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and Vineet Saran barred Nedumpara from practising in the Supreme Court for a year.

Justice J.S. Khehar 

In May 2014, former CJI Khehar, then a judge in the top court, got upset after the Sahara Group raised questions about a Supreme Court order putting Subrata Roy in jail for failing to repay thousands of crores owed to depositors. 

He delivered a stinging judgment soon afterwards, rejecting Sahara chief Roy’s bail application and censuring him for insisting on the recusal of judges. 

In a strongly-worded judgment delivered on 6 May 2014, Khehar accused the group of “systematically” frustrating and flouting all its orders with impunity on refunding investors’ money. He added that the group “adopted a demeanour of defiance constituting a rebellious behaviour, not amenable to the rule of law”.

However, within hours of delivering the judgment, he recused himself without assigning any reasons. 

In July 2017, Khehar also rapped the country as a whole for habitually violating court orders. Annoyed about piled-up contempt cases in various courts, he remarked, “Now, it’s like, we are Indians. Violation of law and court orders is in our blood and culture.”

Justice Madan B. Lokur

Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur was not only known as the angry judge but also as one who never missed a chance to fume at the government for any lapse.

One of the most distinct moments was when Justice Lokur pointed out that the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi was doing nothing to solve the problem of garbage pile-up but was only claiming that he was a “superman”.

In July 2018, Justice Lokur had admonished the Lieutenant-Governor for the garbage piles dotting the capital city, saying rubbish heaps at dumping sites are all set to cross the height of the Qutub Minar.

Justice Lokur was a part of the Green Bench of the top court at the time. “The Centre has promised utopia” he said. “Nice of you to say to have school-level awareness, but when will it be possible or is it possible for you at all?”

Even during the case of sealing of unauthorised constructions in Delhi in November 2018, Justice Lokur did not hide his anger. “If Delhi has to collapse, let it collapse. If people who are supposed to look after Delhi are not bothered, why should we bother then,” Lokur observed, adding, “Should we close all these proceedings.”

However Lokur is known to be a judge who has always stood by social justice and human rights and has been respected by all in the lawyer’s body.

Another thing that didn’t go down well with the judge was excuses by government when directed to work on the Taj Mahal by the SC. While responding to a public-interest petition in July 2028, by an environmental activist concerned over the deteriorating state of Taj Mahal, Lokur castigated the authorities and said, “either we shut down the Taj or demolish it or you restore it”.


Also Read: Will apologise 100 times with folded hands: Justice Mishra after ‘contempt threat’ to lawyer


 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I am copying below Adv Mathews J Nedumpara’s first hand version of what happened on 5 Mar 2019 when Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman lost his temper and initiated contempt proceedings in a vindictive manner.

    *”Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth”* I pen these lines in response to an article in the Print.in titled, ‘Not just Arun Misra, these 6 SC judges have also lost their cool in recent years’ where a reference was made about me

    The truth of what happened on 5.3.2019 is fairly known to all. Despite the bar and bench’s misquoting. The case came a day after copy of the Writ Petition which I had filed in the Delhi HC seeking a declaration that the explanation to rule 49 of the bar council rules which was added manifestly to allow those lawyers who practice in the very same court where their immediate relative is a judge, as unconstitutional, for it renders dispensation of impartial justice a mirage. Sri Fali Nariman was the first respondent. I arrayed him so because his practicing in the SC were his son is a judge, so too, a member of the all powerful Collegium which appoints the peer judges of SC, and Sri Fali Nariman, appearing in the SC in defense of the decision of the Collegium of which his son is a member, in my humble view, so too in the eyes of thousands of informed lay people and lawyers (which I know for a fact because I am leading a Campaign which has more than 16k members) is against all canons of justice and fair play.

    When I stood up to argue NLC’s case seeking a declaration that Section 16(2) and 23(3) of the Advocates Act empowering the courts to designate an Advocate as a senior lawyer, a manifestly unjust system where the kith and kin of judges and senior lawyers, their juniors, so too of political heavy weights, Cabinet Ministers, Governors are designated as ‘baby’ seniors, so as to appropriate almost the entirety of the pie, leaving the crumbs to the sons and daughters of the common man who are just as deserving, if not far more, Justice Nariman, was seething with anger inside which his face could hardly conceal.

    While seeking a declaration that the said Sections are unconstitutional, i had an alternative prayer that those who were in the active practice for more than 35years and had crossed the age of 62, who nobody could ever dispute to be the real seniors as the court had done in designating 25 retired HC judges, Justice Nariman, angrily retorted saying it is a bounty. In reply to the same I ventured to say “Even Sri. Fali Nariman-“, even before i could fully complete my sentence, Justice Nariman exploded. I had no idea what had happened. I asked “did i say anything”. Then Justice Nariman said you took the name of Fali Nariman. Then looking to the lawyers on both sides i asked ‘did i say anything’, meaning did i say anything wrong. Justice Nariman then asked the audience did he not take the name of Fali Nariman. Some of the lawyers then said yes he did. Then i went on to say that all that i wanted to say was that even Shri Fali S Nariman, supports the proposition that the only thing in the matter of seniority, is the seniority to be reckoned from the date of enrollment. I said this twice despite the intervention of the court. This is the truth. Bar and Bench did not report the truth as it was. They created the story that i used Fali Nariman’s name without a reason. That came to the foundation of the narration in the media. Those who were in the court who witnessed it, know the truth. In our temples of justice, oft truth is crucified, justice interred with their bones. That is the reason why NLC took video recording of the court proceedings and access to such records as its second top most agenda. We have been fighting for the cause of video recording for more than 10 years. The fact that some people were implanted so that NLC is not recognised for its efforts is of no concern to us. Buddha said, three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.

  2. “But you are not even worthy of contempt” – CJI Deepak Misra to Lawyer Prashant Bhushan. That takes the cake! Some lawyers eat judges for breakfast everyday. But, that doesn’t make news. Only when the judges respond in anger, you scramble to report it in banner headlines! Judging is not a easy job. Have sympathy for the judges.

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