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Proven guilty by the bar?

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Ram Jethmalani

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I am convinced you have lost your mind, writes senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani to CS Karnan, sitting High Court justice

By Sujit Bhar

The Justice CS Karnan case has stirred the legal community like no other. It has not only made the bench jittery, starting from the lower judiciary to the topmost office of the country, but has also generated huge interest among advocates and even the general public. The idea is to wait and watch how the judiciary deals with one of its own; whether the law actually applies to all, equally.

This is a constitutional issue. Incidentally, it must be remembered that there is no overarching mechanism that oversees the actions of the bench at the top level, starting from the High Court and upwards. The mechanism to handle issues at this level is to be handled through an impeachment process that is complicated and time consuming. It was beyond the comprehension of the writers of the constitution that such an issue would grow out of a system that was formatted and put in place with huge powers of oversight over the rest.

While there have been others who have faced impeachment due to corruption, Justice Karnan’s is a unique case which it isn’t about corruption, but about indiscipline and insubordination.

A screenshot of Jethmalani's letter

A screenshot of Jethmalani’s letter

The recent outburst of senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, in an open letter to Justice Karnan (see picture), is a case in point. It is a letter that, under normal circumstances, would have been taken as an affront to the judiciary and would have called for censure from the bench. No reaction is, so far, available from the bench on this letter.

The letter in itself was totally uncalled for, because as Jethmalani himself has admitted, “I have never met you nor even heard about you…” but then he goes on to say: “I am sorry to tell you that I am convinced you have lost your mind. You behaviour is that of a lunatic and some day that may be the only defence available to you though with no bright chance of success.”

One would wonder what the result would be, if any lawyer, of whichever standing, or an ordinary citizen for that matter, had written such a letter to any other high court judge of the country. Would not contempt proceedings be brought against that lawyer?

Jethmalani also says: “…humbly pray for pardon for every stupid action you have so far indulged in.”

This has to be studied in three parts. First, the law-abiding citizen would like to see how the judiciary deals with one of its own, and how it provides even a judge a fair trial. Can a judge—or any citizen for that matter—be declared a law-breaker because he/she refused to appear for a contempt hearing? If so, then the law is being justly and equally embalmed.

Secondly, would not Justice Karnan be deemed innocent till proved guilty? If at this point nothing has been proved against him—certainly no crime—how was it possible for a senior lawyer to cast serious personal aspersions on a member of the bench? This is not to condone the actions of the judge in question (Justice Karnan), but to question the action of a lawyer, who is no more a civilian than any one of us, even if he is attached to the judicial system.

And third, if discipline is a matter imposed only on non-judicial civilians, then would the constitution condone that act? What is the mechanism of redress available to the ordinary citizen in the case of an emotional outburst following a judgement that he or she or his or her family fails to comprehend and/or feels has not been fair? Does the accused have access to redressal, other than approach a higher court, which involves cost? If not, should Jethmalani be so unique a human being that his letter can be overlooked?

The Justice Katju case

This brings to mind the call for contempt of Justice Markandey Katju. Not only was he a former judge of the Supreme Court, he is also the former Chairman, Press Council of India, both extremely authoritative positions. He has been known to be outspoken, a trait that got him in trouble.

In the Soumya rape and murder case—where the culprit Govindachamy assaulted and then raped the 23-year-old in the empty ladies coach of a moving train before allegedly pushing her off the train, killing her—the Supreme Court had refused to give capital punishment to Govindachamy. It upheld his life sentence instead, overturning the Kerala High Court’s death sentence of 2013.

The incident was almost as gruesome as the Delhi Nirbhaya case, though the assailant was just one, but the issue of his pushing Soumya off the train could not be proved. That was the primary reason why the Supreme Court stopped before capital punishment.

The judgement created heartbreak in Kerala and Justice Katju said in a Facebook entry that the apex court had “grievously erred” by not imposing death penalty. Katju said it was “regrettable” that the court has not read Section 300 carefully.

In October 2016, the apex court summoned Justice Katju and issued a contempt notice for criticizing the judge and not the judgement. To this, Justice Katju had said: “Mr (Justice) Gogoi don’t threaten me. Do what you want. I am not scared.”

The incident got serious when Justice Katju kept reminding the Judge (Gogoi) that he (Katju) was senior to him. At one point the bench called for security, saying: “Is there anyone to escort Justice Katju out of court?”

In January this year Justice Katju had to submit an unconditional apology to the court at which contempt proceedings were dropped.

If that was the case of a former Supreme Court Judge, casting personal insults on a sitting high court judge might be considered a serious case, especially when the judge in question is yet to be proven guilty of any crime other than contempt of court.

How does advocate Ram Jethmalani stand?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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Calcutta High Court suggests changing name of Sita, Akbar lions

Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya asked AAG whether he had any pets and if they were named after national heroes.

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The Calcutta High Court on Thursday suggested to the Bengal government that the names of lioness Sita and lion Akbar, who were placed in the same enclosure at the Bengal Safari Park in Siliguri, could be changed.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had filed a petition in the High Court to change the name of the lioness Sita, who was recently brought to West Bengal from Tripura.

Hearing a petition, the Single-Judge Bench of Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya orally directed the State to avoid controversy and consider renaming the big cats.

Questioning the intention of the State, Justice Bhattacharyya asked the government if it would name a lion after a Hindu deity, a Muslim prophet or Christian god, a freedom fighter or a Nobel laureate. Generally, anyone who has been revered or respected by the people of our country, Justice Bhattacharyya further asked.

On this occasion, the Additional Advocate General (AAG), appearing for the State, submitted that the naming of the lions took place in Tripura, and it was the responsibility of the Tripura Zoo authorities. Counsel further told the Court that the State itself was already considering changing the name of lions.

Upon hearing the arguments, the Bench also questioned the logic behind naming the lions after a god, freedom fighter or Nobel laureate and further asked why the State did not challenge the names given by Tripura.

The Court further noted that the petition filed by VHP espoused the rights of a large section of people and said that naming a lion after Sita, a largely worshipped by Hindus would hurt their religious sentiments.

During the exchange with AAG, Justice Bhattacharyya also stated that the animals could not be named after respected figures. He further asked AAG whether he had any pets and if they were named after national heroes.

The Bench had directed the petition by VHP to be reclassified as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and redirected it to a regular Bench that can hear the same.

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Farmer who died in protest, survived by mentally ill father, unwed sister

Farmer Leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal has asked the Punjab Government to declare Shubhkaran Singh a martyr and provide benefits accordingly. 

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The 21-year-old farmer, Shubhkaran Singh who died during the clashes between the police and the protesting farmers on Khanauri border left behind his mentally ill father and an unwed sister. His mother died years ago.

The 21 years old, a resident of Balloch village of Bathinda in Punjab, left his home on February 13 to join the Delhi Chalo march. Reports stated that Shubhkaran Singh was the youngest among the group of 15 people who left to join the protest from the village.

Reportedly, Shubhkaran was the only son and sole breadwinner of the family. The 21-year-old farmer has about two acres of land. Shubhkaran, who has two sisters, also took a loan for the marriage of his one sister.

The farmers who halted their protest for two days after the death of the youth, have blocked the autopsy. Farmer Leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal has asked the AAP led Punjab Government to declare Shubhkaran a martyr and provide benefits accordingly. The leader further said that the government should create a five member board to conduct the post-mortem examination.

Meanwhile, farmer leader Sarwan Singh Pandher said that the police took action when the farmers were peacefully trying to cross over into Haryana. He added that more than 100 farmers have been injured and demanded the treatment of injured farmers.

Haryana police while appealing for peace said that farmers escalated the violence by attacking the police personnels with sticks and maces and that the police were only trying to restrain them.

Issuing a statement, Additional Inspector General, Manisha Chaudhary said that farmers surrounded the police from all sides, burned stubble by pouring chilli powder in it. She added that around 12 policemen were seriously injured because of the attacks by protestors at Datta Singh Wala-Khanauri border.

Meanwhile, farmer’s leader Pandher said that farmer leaders will discuss future actions and until then, all farmers will remain camped at the borders.

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Congress slams Govt over X blocking accounts linked to farmers protest on Centre’s order, says democracy is being murdered

X disagreed with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts.

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The Congress party on Thursday slammed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led central government over the action of microblogging platform X blocking accounts and posts linked to the ongoing farmers’ protest and called it a murder of democracy.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh, taking to X, said that the action taken by the social media platform on the Centre’s order was a murder of democracy in India.

The Elon Musk-led X, sharing a post on its platform in response to the IT ministry’s order asking it to temporarily block 177 accounts linked to the farmers’ protest, said that the Indian government has issued executive orders requiring it to act on specific accounts and posts, subject to potential penalties, including significant fines and imprisonment.

The X’s Global Government Affairs team further stated that it complied with the orders and they would withhold these accounts and posts in India alone, however, they disagreed with these actions and maintained that freedom of expression should extend to these posts.

Consistent with their position, a writ appeal challenging the Indian government’s blocking orders remains pending. X has also provided the impacted users with notice of these actions following their policies.

Due to legal restrictions, they were unable to publish the executive orders, but they thought that making them public was essential for transparency. This lack of disclosure can lead to a lack of accountability and arbitrary decision-making, the X’s Global Government Affairs said in a post on its platform.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also hit out at the Modi government and termed it a murder of democracy. Taking to X, he raised several questions and said if farmers ask for MSP, shoot them. Is this the Mother of Democracy? Gandhi further said that when the youth ask for the appointment, the Centre refuse to even listen to them, if the former governor tells the truth, then they send CBI to his house.

He also attacked the Modi government for freezing the bank accounts of the most prominent opposition party. He added, saying that Section 144, internet ban, sharp wires, and tear gas shells on farmers are not justified in the democracy. He further attacked the Centre for suppressing the voice of the people. He charged on Centre, saying Modi ji public knows that the government have murdered democracy and they will answer it.

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