The Supreme Court today dismissed a batch of petitions seeking an independent inquiry into the death of District Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case at a specially constituted court.
A three-judge bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said there is no merit in the petitions while expressing their anguish at the conduct of the counsel for the petitioners. The bench had reserved the judgment on the pleas on March 16.
Aspersions were cast on the administrative committee of the Bombay High Court, even judges of this bench were not spared, the judgement said. “There were attempts to malign the dignity of the judges.”
During the course of the hearing, it became clear that the petitioners made a frontal attack on the credibility of the judiciary.Supreme Court Verdict
Other key highlights from the judgement:
- Decision whether to hear a case or not is a matter of conscience. No reason for any judge to recuse in this case.
- There was a spate of scurrilous allegations from the lawyers of the petitioners.
- We were surprised at the allegation that one man is controlling the judiciary in Bombay High Court and elsewhere in the country.
- There were serious attempts to scandalise the court and the process of justice.
The Back Story
Judge Loya died of a cardiac arrest in Nagpur on Dec. 1, 2014, while visiting the city to attend a wedding, according to the Maharashtra Police. At the time he was hearing the case regarding the death of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, who was killed by the police when Amit Shah, president of the ruling BJP, was the home minister of Gujarat. Shah was eventually discharged in the case by another judge appointed to replace Loya. Late last year media reports alleged foul play in the death of Judge Loya subsequent to which the Bombay Lawyers’ Association and a petitioner by the name of Suryakant approached the Bombay High Court seeking an inquiry into the circumstances into the death of the judge. Soon after, three other petitioners, Congress party leader Tehseen Poonawalla, Jayshri Patil and Maharashtra-based journalist Bandhuraj Lone approached the Supreme Court with a similar plea.
The case was first to be heard by Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra but following a controversy on alleged arbitrary allocation of cases, the case was eventually heard by the bench led by the chief justice.
The allocation of Judge Loya’s death case was one of reasons cited by four Supreme Court judges for speaking out publicly against Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra in an unprecedented press conference in January.
Prashant Bhushan, counsel for one of the petitioners, called the verdict “very wrong” and “a black day in the history of Supreme Court”.
One district judge dies in mysterious circumstances. Seeking investigation in that is a political motive? This raises questions on the judgement of the court.Prashant Bhushan, Petitioner’s Counsel
The Maharashtra government had argued in the apex court that all pleas seeking an independent probe into Loya's death were motivated and aimed at targeting “one individual” in the guise of upholding the rule of law.
Mukul Rohatgi, counsel for the state and former attorney general of India, said there was no merit in the petitions and these were “motivated by collateral purposes”.
These petitions were filed more than two years after the death of the Judge. It was only a charade in the name of independence of judiciary, etc. The real motive was to attack a gentleman who is a senior functionary in the current government. It was an open and shut case.Mukul Rohatgi, Former Attorney General of India, Counsel for Maharashtra
Petitioners’ counsel went to the extent of doubting the judges on the bench hearing this case as two out of the three were from Maharashtra, Rohatgi told BloombergQuint over the phone. “This is completely not acceptable, our judges are made of sterner stuff,” he said, calling the allegations almost “criminal” in nature.