It is the responsibility of the Bar to ensure that “dignity of judiciary” is maintained, the Supreme Court said Thursday while hearing activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s application seeking recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from adjudicating contempt plea filed against him by the Attorney General.
A bench comprising Justice Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha observed that though “fair criticism” has to be there, the judiciary and judges should not be denigrated.
“Independence of bar has to be maintained. At the same time, it is the responsibility of bar to ensure that dignity of judiciary should be maintained,” the bench said.
“The judiciary stands on the solid pillar of the bar,” it added.
The issue cropped up before the court when senior lawyer Dushyant Dave, appearing for the activist lawyer, said that Bhushan has filed an application seeking recusal of Justice Mishra from hearing the case.
He referred to some earlier orders passed by Justice Mishra, including the one in which the apex court had made observations about lawyers going to the media on sub-judice cases, and said this has given rise to an apprehension in Bhushan’s mind.
“Judges think independently. It is a matter of common knowledge that in some matters, some judges may have strict views while other judges will have different views. This is the beauty of this institution,” Justice Sinha observed.
“We are all from the bar. When a lawyer comes to argue a matter, he knows from his heart that which way the judge will go. Then, in that situation, should he seek recusal of a judge,” the bench observed.
Dave said apprehension has to be seen from the mind of litigants and not from the mind of judges. “Please hear our application (seeking recusal). There are reasons in it.”
To this, the bench told Dave, “Sorry, we are not with you. We should not express any opinion on this kind of application. If you want, we can pass reasoned order and then it will reflect many things. We are telling you.”
The bench also observed that the “Bar has the solemn duty to maintain the dignity of the institution”.
Justice Mishra, who initially said he would not recuse from hearing the contempt plea, later heard detailed arguments on Bhushan’s application in which he has sought his recusal.
During the hearing, Bhushan admitted in the court that he had made a “genuine mistake” by tweeting that the government had perhaps submitted in the apex court fabricated documents of the high-powered selection panel on appointment of interim CBI director.
However, Bhushan refused to tender an “unconditional apology” in the court for seeking recusal of Justice Mishra from hearing the contempt plea filed against him by Attorney General K K Venugopal.
Venugopal told the court that he would like to withdraw his contempt plea since Bhushan has made a statement that it was a “genuine mistake”.
However, the Attorney General opposed Bhushan’s recusal application and said, “I have serious apprehensions about bona fide of this application.”
He said Bhushan, through his tweets, had tried to “poison the mind of public” by saying that the Centre had filed fabricated documents in the apex court on appointment of interim CBI director.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, which has also filed a separate contempt plea against Bhushan, referred to earlier orders passed by the apex court and said seeking recusal of judges has become a “pattern”.
He said earlier also attempts were made to have two out of three judges recuse from hearing the pleas seeking probe into the death of special CBI judge B H Loya, who was hearing the high-profile Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for some social activists who have sought to intervene in the case, said Mehta has no locus to argue in the matter as the Centre’s contempt plea against Bhushan was not maintainable.
“He (Mehta) appears in court, stands up and argues without being a party in the case,” Dhavan said.
To this, Mehta said, “I refuse to be provoked or intimidated”.
After witnessing some heated exchange of words between Dhavan and Mehta in the courtroom, the bench said, “please maintain the decorum of the court”.
Later, the court also said it will deal with larger issue of whether lawyers and litigants can criticise the court proceedings in a matter which is sub-judice to influence public opinion.
The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on April 3.