SC DISMISSES REVIEW PETITIONS: ISSUES CONTEMPT NOTICE TO JUSTICE KATJU AMIDST AN UGLY SPAT BETWEEN HIM AND JUSTICE GOGOI
Supreme Court issues contempt notice to Justice Katju, after hearing him on the Govindasamy sentencing case, amidst an ugly spat between him and Justice Gogoi
Former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Markandey Katju, created history today, by appearing in the Court and arguing himself, in defence of the blog post he had written on the judgment in the Govindasamy case.
The Supreme Court, however, appeared to be on the wrong side of history, by issuing a contempt notice to him at the end of the proceedings -ignoring his protests – for writing the blog post critical of the judgment, in a language, which the Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, said was intemperate.
When the ugly spat between Justice Gogoi and Justice Katju appeared to cross all norms of decency, Justice Gogoi asked whether there was anyone in the court room to escort Katju out of the court. This led to loud protests among the lawyers that ‘this is all wrong, this is all wrong’.
The unexpected notice to Justice Katju came after two hour-long proceedings, in which Justice Katju, Rohatgi, and the bench put forth their contentions. With occasional and repetitive barbs from Justice Katju, that the bench lacked “common sense”, it appeared as if the bench, by not getting provoked by such comments, was taking them lightly.
Once Justice Gogoi began to dictate his order, he separated the arguments on whether Govindasamy was guilty of murder, from whether Justice Katju was prima facie guilty of contempt of court, by making intemperate remarks in his blog post, which the bench had underlined, and sought the AG’s response.
Rohatgi first said the post was scandalous. However, when he sensed that the bench was likely to issue contempt notice, he revised his view, and said the underlined portion only suggested he was intemperate, and nothing beyond.
Justice Katju told Justice Gogoi: “Mr.Gogoi, You are provoking me. This is not the way to treat me. Don’t try to threaten me. Don’t act funny. I came here because of your request, out of respect. Am I to be treated like this?”
Justice Gogoi to Justice Katju: “You are provoking us. Your blog post is an assault, not only on me, but on the other Judges on the bench.”
How it all began
The proceedings in the packed court room No.6 of the Supreme Court began at 2.10 p.m. with a lot of excitement and suspense, with Justice Katju entering the court room like any other litigant, and taking his seat among others.
The bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi, Prafulla C Pant and U.U.Lalit, first gave Justice Katju 30 minutes to make his submissions. But when he insisted an hour, the bench readily granted it.
When Justice Katju began to talk on the fallibility of Judges, and how he himself admitted to errors in his judgments, Justice Gogoi told him the bench reads his judgments every day, and it knew that it is not infallible. Therefore, he could well confine himself to the arguments on the case, and why he thinks the bench was erroneous in its judgment, holding Govindaswamy not guilty of murdering Soumya.
Justice Katju then explained that the bench ignored the relevance of the third and fourth parts of Section 300 IPC, which do not require an intention on the part of the accused to murder the victim.
On the doctor’s evidence that her first injury was not fatal, and therefore, her second injury was not a consequence of her first injury, Justice Katju said, there was something like common sense, which would explain this seeming inconsistency.
Justice Katju said that the accused was responsible for her jumping, because of the mortal fear created by him. Does it make a difference whether she fell on her own or thrown out?, he asked the bench repeatedly.
On the statement of the bystander, and the exception to hearsay evidence in Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act, Justice Katju said the bystander evidence, is no doubt, admissible, but the bench has to decide whether it is also credible.
Disagreeing with Justice Lalit, he said the bystander evidence can be partly credible and partly not credible. Justice Lalit, however, maintained that once it is an admissible evidence, it cannot be discarded.
Justice Katju said that part of the bystander statement that she jumped and she escaped, can be disbelieved. There is no such thing that if you believe one part of the statement, you have to believe the other part also. “I believe you make a grave error”, he told the bench.
Justice Lalit expressed the difficulty that the bench cannot improve upon the case of the prosecution. Justice Katju said she had no choice, but to jump or fall. Therefore, the accused was responsible for her first and second injuries, he explained.
Rohatgi took objection to the use of the word ‘dazed’ by Justice Lalit to describe Soumya’s condition after her first injury, and brought to the notice that she had suffered the fracture of her brain in the first injury.
When Justice Lalit began to refer to dowry deaths, and the presumption of abetment in Section 113A of the Evidence Act in dowry deaths, and how Section 300 does not have similar presumption, Justice Katju asked him not to mix up suicide with this, and use common sense. “It was a desperate situation of dire death”, he told the bench.
Justice Katju said there are two types of jumping from the train, and Soumya’s was not ordinary jumping. The onus is on us to use our common sense to understand this distinction, he told the bench.
The Katju story, which is a by-product of Govindaswamy review case, is likely to trouble the Supreme Court’s conscience for long: Did it go too far by inviting him to assist the bench first on the nuances of the Soumya case, and deliver a surprise contempt notice to him at the end by keeping him in the dark is the question which will be debated in the coming weeks.