Muted at justice Mishra’s farewell, says SC Bar head
Lawyer Dushyant Dave, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA),wrote a communication to Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde on Wednesday, protesting against how he was treated during a ceremonial farewell function for justice Arun Mishra.
Dave alleged that although he had been invited by the Supreme Court to attend the event through video conferencing and had logged in using a web link sent by the court registry, his microphone was deliberately muted by court officials, preventing him from giving a speech.
It is customary for the president of the SCBA, the representative body of lawyers practising in the Supreme Court, to deliver a speech at farewell functions for Supreme Court judges.
“I wish to place on record my strong disappointment and condemnation at what happened today in the Supreme Court of India during the farewell to Justice Arun Mishra. The entire episode leaves much to be desired on the part of this great institution. The whole attempt was to prevent me from addressing on behalf of the SCBA and its Executive Committee, after having invited and invitation having been accepted. This was clearly an affront to the Bar and to me personally,” Dave wrote in his communication, a copy of which has been seen by Hindustan Times.
Dave lamented that Supreme Court has reached a stage “where judges are scared of” the lawyers, while reminding the CJI that “judges are temporary while the Bar is permanent”.
“I must confess, the Supreme Court has come to such levels where the judges are afraid of the Bar. Please do remember, judges come and go but we the Bar remain constant. We are the real strength of this great Institution because we are permanent,” Dave said.
Supreme Court officials said that there had been no deliberate attempt to mute Dave, calling it a technical glitch that prevented even some judges from connecting to the video conference. Dave maintained that he had connected to the conference and was visible on the screen and had also been able to speak before the bench assembled.
“I was duly connected and cleared by technical team (which manages video conference hearings at SC) for video and audio. I interacted with the Attorney General and others for over half an hour. I waited and remained connected all through but was muted once the bench assembled. If I was to speak, the CJI would have at least inquired if I was there. They all could see me and I could see them too. The inescapable conclusion is that the Registry has issued a false statement,” Dave said.
When a Supreme Court judge retires, the retiring judge sits along with the CJI on his/ her last working day and Bar leaders including the attorney general, SCBA president and senior lawyers gather to bid farewell.
A separate, elaborate farewell function is also usually organized by the SCBA on the Supreme Court lawns. After Covid-19 broke out and physical functioning of the court ceased, the SCBA had been organising its farewell functions through video conference. Justice Mishra had declined to participate in SCBA’s farewell function, saying his conscience did not permit him to do so at a time when the world is reeling under the effects of the pandemic.
The ceremonial function organised by the Supreme Court was the only opportunity for Bar leaders to bid farewell to justice Mishra.
Dave, in his letter to the CJI, stated that he had received a link at 10.06 am to join the ceremonial Bench of the CJI at 12.30 pm where justice Mishra was to bid farewell.
Dave joined the conference at around 12.20 pm before the bench assembled and was seen engaging in casual conversations with attorney general KK Venugopal and solicitor general Tushar Mehta ,who were also present to wish justice Mishra on the occasion of his retirement.
Dave alleged that after the bench assembled and heard all cases, it invited Venugopal and Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association president Shivaji Jadhav to speak, but he himself got disconnected frequently.
“I persisted and rejoined each time. I saw and heard Shri Jadhav fully and at the end of his address again I was not requested to speak though Shri Jadhav acknowledged my presence in his address. After that Your Lordship (CJI) spoke which I saw and heard and then invited Justice Mishra to speak. At that stage, realising the game plan I exited in the larger interests of the dignity of the Bar and myself,” he wrote.
Dave also said that he had contacted Supreme Court secretary general Sanjeev Kalgaonkar during the farewell, demanding to know why he was being muted, but did not get any response from Kalgaonkar in time.
“Only at 1.02pm, he responded saying he is instructing Registrar to look into it , by which time it was too late and so I messaged him informing that I had exited,” Dave said.
Dave has been a vocal critic of the Supreme Court in recent years and has engaged in heated exchanges with justice Mishra on more than one occasion. The most recent of such instances was when he was appearing on behalf of advocate Prashant Bhushan in the contempt case initiated against Bhushan for tweets criticising the court and CJI Bobde.
What did Dave want to say during the farewell function?
In his communication to the CJI, Dave also stated that he may have been prevented from speaking lest he say something unpleasant and went on to highlight what he wanted to say.
“Let me tell you exactly what I was to say which I had written down: On behalf of the SCBA, the Executive Committee and myself, I wish you Justice Mishra happiness and bliss in remainder of your long life which by all accounts will be as fruitful and rewarding as it has been. May I pray to Lord Mahabaleshwar to bless you with strength to introspect and stir up your conscience,” the communication said.
Dave’s communication ended by saying that he will not participate in any function organised by the Supreme Court until December this year when his tenure as the Bar president comes to an end.
Haris Beeran, a Supreme Court lawyer, said if Dave’s allegations are true, it is a very serious issue. “The registry is saying that it was a technical issue but it appears to be a conscious decision to prevent him from speaking. At what level this decision was taken should be inquired into because it has always been a tradition at the Bar for the SCBA President to speak at the farewell of a retiring judge,” Beeran said.
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