Can you imagine the Supreme Court passing an order against an accused without giving him/her an opportunity to be heard?
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat (since retired) had done just that in November 2008, when it convicted eight accused in a murder case after hearing arguments from only four of them. The bench had reversed an order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court (Gwalior Bench) — which acquitted all eight — and sentenced them to six-year imprisonment.
Now, admitting that the order was illegal, a four-judge bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan has recalled it.
This is for the first time that the apex court has corrected its mistake using the judicially invented mechanism of curative petitions, which have almost 100 per cent dismissal rate.
On curative petitions filed by three of the accused, it has ordered that Sughar Singh, Laxman, Onkar and Ramesh be released, if they were in custody. The bench ordered that the matter be re-heard after issuing notices to all the accused. The other four accused are Bhoja, Raghubir, Puran and Balbir.
In October 1999, a Shivpuri sessions court had convicted all eight of murdering one Balkishan in village Nehgawan in 1989. They had been sentenced to life imprisonment.
“We see there is a serious violation of principles of natural justice as the acquittal of all the accused has been set aside even though only four of them were made respondents (parties) before this court and others were not heard. We are, therefore, constrained to recall the judgment passed by this court…,” the bench said.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said: “As far as I know, this is the first case where a curative petition heard by circulation (not in the open court) has been allowed. This shows that the curative process is not meaningless and rather it is integral to the Supreme Court justice delivery mechanism.”
Asked if it was not shocking to know that the SC passed conviction order without hearing four of the eight accused, he said: “Candour is more important than consistency. If judges are prepared to repent through the curative process, this shows judicial honesty.”