Judges have right to respond to allegations of bias: Delhi high court | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Judges have right to respond to allegations of bias: Delhi high court

May 29, 2024 09:51 AM IST

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said that denying such opportunity would lead to a culture of unchecked and unverified accusations against any judge

The Delhi high court has underlined the importance of guarding the reputation of judicial officers and said judges have the right to respond to the allegations of bias against them while dealing with a case. A bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma on Tuesday said that denying such opportunity would lead to a culture of unchecked and unverified accusations against any judge.

The court said the judges build their reputation over years of dedicated service. (Shutterstock)
The court said the judges build their reputation over years of dedicated service. (Shutterstock)

“Judges, by virtue of their duties, are tasked with upholding the principles of fairness and impartiality while adjudicating cases before them and authoring judgments. However, when the conduct of a judge itself comes into question, the principle of audi alteram partem [let the other side be heard as well] must be equally applied in such cases to the judges,” said Justice Sharma. “The application of audi alteram partem in cases involving judges would ensure that the judiciary remains accountable, while also protecting the rights of judges to defend their conduct and decisions.”

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Justice Sharma said the judges build their reputation over years of dedicated service and thus it is of utmost importance for them to guard their reputation.

The judges’ right to be heard was stressed in connection with an Enforcement Directorate (ED) plea challenging a local court’s May 1 order transferring the Bhushan Steel money laundering case from Judge Jagdish Kumar, who allegedly remarked, “Let them take dates, where is the question of bail in ED matters.”

The May 1 order was passed after one of the accused, Ajay S Mittal, filed a transfer application saying that Judge Kumar was sitting with a “pre-determined” and prejudicial mind to dismiss his bail application. Mittal claimed his wife, who was watching the proceedings virtually, allegedly overheard Judge Kumar making the alleged remarks during a conversation with the court staff.

In the May 1 order, a district judge allowed Mittal’s plea noting his apprehension of the judge’s “probable bias” in the probe agency’s favour could not be said to be misconceived or misplaced.

ED moved the high court claiming the district judge transferred the matter based on an affidavit of Mittal’s wife without calling for a report from the concerned judge. It said that the “wild allegations” against the judge could not be considered “gospel truth” as none of the lawyers present during the hearing heard the judge’s remarks.

In his 41-page order, Justice Sharma observed a judge’s stray general comment to one of his staff members, who is neither a participant in the decision-making process nor has any interest in the outcome of the case, cannot be a ground to infer that the judicial officer was saying something in the context of the similar case.

He said the relationship between the staff and the judge must be treated as confidential and should not become a subject of scrutiny by the litigants or the lawyers.

The high court took a dim view of the growing tendency of the litigants to write abusive or inappropriate comments in the chat box during video conferencing. It urged the formulation of appropriate guidelines for countering it. “The growing tendency of writing abusive or inappropriate comments in the chat box at the time of video conferencing, using inappropriate, defamatory, contemptuous and abusive language against judges have also come to the notice of the courts in the recent past in addition to now the present case where allegations regarding an overheard conversation between the judge and the staff when the Court was not in session have been made [the] basis of alleging bias against the concerned judge. These developments are a matter of concern,” the high court said.

The court set aside the transfer order saying that the district judge failed to grant any opportunity to Kumar to respond to the allegations of bias before passing the ruling. It observed that this oversight had undermined the basic tenets of fairness and natural justice. The court directed the district judge to consider the matter afresh after calling for comments from Judge Kumar.

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