Lawyers protest Calcutta chief justice’s decision to reassign case
Differences have emerged among members of the bar association of the Calcutta high court after a section of lawyers wrote to acting chief justice Rajesh Bindal on July 22 threatening to boycott his court unless he recalled his order transferring a civil case from the court of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya instead of addressing the latter’s concern about technical glitches.
The case Justice Bhattacharyya was hearing was assigned to the division bench headed by Justice Harish Tandon.
Justice IP Mukherjee, who is a member of the five-judge bench headed by Justice Bindal, on Monday held a meeting with members of the bar association and discussed the issue. “We are not disclosing the outcome of today’s meeting. We will take it up at a meeting of the lawyers on Tuesday evening,” an office-bearer of the bar association said on condition of anonymity.
The sequence of events started on July 19: Justice Bhattacharyya, who reacted sharply on July 16 when technical glitches disrupted the virtual hearing of the civil case, passed a strongly-worded order when he found that the case was transferred to the division bench of Justice Tandon.
In his 10-page order, Justice Bhattacharyya criticised the court administration as well as acting chief justice on whose orders the case was reassigned.
“Although it has been clarified that the Chief Justice (including Acting Chief Justice) is the Master of the Roster and “more equal among equals” (not by Orwell but our own Supreme Court), the excess equality pertains only to the administrative side of this court and cannot override the appellate side rules, framed and modified by the full court comprised of all Judges of this Hon‟ble Court. There is doubt as to whether the Chief Justice/Acting Chief Justice, in her/his administrative capacity as the Master of the Roster, can override a judicial order passed by a Bench having determination fixed by the Chief Justice/Acting Chief Justice herself/himself and the file of the matter be assigned to some other court overnight,” justice Bhattacharyya wrote in his order on July 19.
“’Do not wash your dirty linen in public’ is a nice defence for the beneficiaries of an oppressive/corrupt system, but is the anathema of transparency, which is in-built in the concept of the judiciary being the last bastion of democracy,” said the order.
The incident triggered strong reactions. On July 22, some members of the bar association convened a meeting and wrote a four-page letter to Justice Bindal.
“We are extremely shocked that the moment Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya questioned as to why measures are not taken to improve the quality of virtual hearing, the same matter was suddenly assigned to a division bench. It is extremely apparent that the sudden assignment to a division bench was made only for the reason that Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya questioned the administrative side of the high court for not doing its required job…..” wrote the lawyers in their letter, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT.
“We are not questioning that fact that you in the capacity of an acting chief justice can definitely assign a matter…However the question here is the time and matter coupled with to whom i.e. which bench,” the letter said.