Unprecedented drama in Supreme Court as Prashant Bhushan storms out of hearing

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Renowned Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Friday stormed out of a hearing in the apex court while yelling at the Chief Justice of India Justice Deepak Misra.
Prashant Bhushan

Bhushan reportedly told CJI Misra, “You are alleged to be a part of this scam. How can you hear the matter?”

Bhushan told CJI Misra, “FIR is lodged directly against you.” To which the CJI replied, “What nonsense! There’s not a word in FIR naming me or anyone else. Read our orders first. You are now liable for contempt.”

Bhushan then challenged CJI Misra to issue him a contempt. But all CJI Misra said was “You are not worth it.”

This was after CJI Misra junked an order passed by Justice J Chelameswar, who had referred a Medical Council of India (MCI) scam to a constitution bench of the top court. Snubbing Justice Chelameswa, CJI Misra said that he was the the master of the roster adding that judges could not assign matters to themselves.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave had on Thursday submitted that the medical admission matter was being heard by the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and hence, he should not be involved with it either on the judicial or on the administrative side, reported India Today.

A News 18 reporter, who was present in the court room tweeted, “Advocate Prashant Bhushan leaves the hearing midway, complaining he hasn’t been allowed to speak for over an hour and that the Bench can pass whatever orders it feels. He shouts, screams and goes out.”

Bhushan had earlier tweeted, “Extraordinary proceedings in SC today in the case seeking SIT Investigation in medical college bribery case involving the CJI! CJI presided over a hand-picked bench to override yesterday’s order referring this case to top 5 judges. This despite having a direct conflict of interest.”

His second tweet had said, “The court proceedings were extraordinary in that the CJI was asking all kinds of lawyers who were not parties to say things against the order of Court 2, w/o hearing petitioner. He tried to justify his role in the medical college case & speak against ‘impropriety’ of Court 2.”

According to Bar and Bench website, a 5-judge Bench of CJI Misra and Justices RK Agrawal, Arun Mishra, Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar was hearing the petition filed by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms (CJAR).

Background

The Supreme Court on Thursday referred to a constitution bench, comprising five senior-most judges, a plea claiming that alleged bribes were being taken using the names of apex court judges promising to secure favourable settlement of a case.

The case refers to allegations of bribe paid to judges including from the Supreme Court. The CBI has already filed an FIR in the matter and arrested several people including a former Odisha High Court judge Ishrat Masroor Quddusi. The accused reportedly promised to settle the matter using their contacts at high level including Supreme Court judges, who were hearing the matter of bribery allegations.

The bench hearing the bribery allegations was being headed by the CJI Deepak Misra.

Terming as “disturbing” the allegations levelled in CBI’s FIR that also made former Orissa High Court judge Ishrat Masroor Quddusi as one of the accused, the top court said the plea would come up for hearing before the constitution bench on 13 November.

The decision that the five senior-most judges would be part of the constitution bench assumes significance in the wake of senior advocate Dushyant Dave’s submission that the medical admission matter, the genesis of CBI FIR, was being heard by the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and hence, he should not be involved with it either on the judicial or on the administrative side. Dave’s objection stemmed from the fact that the CJI himself could be under the scanner as the allegations of bribery were made against Supreme Court judges, who were involved in the hearing of the matter. It’s in this context that the NGO, Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Judicial Reforms, had moved the Supreme Court requesting for an independent probe by an SIT.

A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S Abdul Nazeer had issued notices to the Centre and the CBI on the plea seeking setting up of an SIT, to be headed by a retired Chief Justice of India, to probe the matter.

The bench headed by Justice Chelameswar had referred the matter to bench consisting of five senior most judges considering the severity of the allegations. However, when the hearing commenced on Friday, to his suprise, Bhushan saw a bench of 5 hand picked junior judges, presided by the Chief Justice.

Writing in detail on what transpired in the Supreme Court on Friday, the CJAR website stated, “The hearing began to a full court where the office bearers of the Supreme Court Bar Association seemed to have been invited to address the court. Mr. P.S. Narasimhan Additional Solicitor General also addressed the court. The hearing was unprecedented since the atmosphere of the court was most unbecoming of the Chief Justice’s Court of the Supreme Court. The proceedings progressed in an atmosphere that was chaotic and like a fish market with sloganeering. The Counsel for the petitioner was neither called upon nor permitted to put forward his case and there was a constant cry for hauling him, along with the others who have taken up this issue, for contempt. Despite several attempts to to make himself heard, at every point, counsel for the petitioner was shouted down and interrupted which ultimately forced him to leave the court.

“At the end without hearing counsel for the petitioner, order dated 9th November 2013 has been rendered void thought the said matter was not before the court. A detailed order has been passed without addressing the issue of conflict of interest raised by the petitioner directing that the Chief Justice of the High Court and the Supreme Court were the master of the Roster, which issue was not challenged or raised by the petitioner at any point of time.

“It is unfortunate that even though very uncharitable comments were made against the Bench of the Supreme Court which had passed the order on 9th November 2017, the same was not commented upon or any attempt made to silence or discourage the members of the bar from making these comments. Today’s proceeding mark a complete fall in the standards of proceedings and advocacy in the Apex Court of the Country.”

Quddusi, who had also served as a judge in Chhattisgarh High Court, was arrested along with Lucknow-based Prasad Institute of Medical Sciences’ chairman B P Yadav, his son Palash Yadav and three others, for allegedly trying to settle a matter relating to a medical college barred from admitting new students. He’s currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar jail.

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