In an exclusive interaction, Manan Kumar Mishra, senior advocate and chairman of the Bar Council of India (BCI), spoke to The Sunday Guardian on a range of issues, including the recent press conference by the four judges of the Supreme Court of India and the controversy over the death of former special CBI judge B.H. Loya. Excerpts:
Q: How do you look at the entire controversy surrounding the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court (SC) coming out in public and addressing a press conference? Many saw it as an “unprecedented” step.
A: Everybody feels that it was unfortunate. Rightly or wrongly, something has happened and I am not going to blame anybody, even the honourable judges. The four senior-most judges raised their grievances before the public and I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, but it is unfortunate.
Q: A team from the BCI under your leadership had met all the SC judges after this incident. What has been the overall outcome and feedback on this matter from the other judges?
A: The rest of the honourable judges were of the view that the four judges should not have gone public and that is the truth. But the good thing is that the very next day, two of the honourable senior judges, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Kurian Joseph, came out with a statement that there is absolutely no crisis and it is an internal issue and will be sorted out internally. I think it was a very good step and a good development.
Q: How is the situation currently in the SC?
A: Well, everything is all right now. The functioning is perfect and the SC is running smoothly and whatever little differences were there, they are trying to sort that out. I am sure that they will be able to do so.
Q: So, till how long do you think this could continue?
A: I think that they have almost sorted out already. All the four honourable judges are coming to court. Only Justice Chelameswar was ill, but the rest of the three sat together with the honourable Chief Justice of India. Justice Chelameswar is also a very nice and cool minded man; therefore, he will also be sitting together and they will sort it out. Other honourable judges are also trying to mediate and they assured us when our delegation met them that things will be sorted out internally.
Q: Congress has been claiming that the Bharatiya Janata Party has been putting pressure on the judges and this whole issue has developed due to this?
A: This is an entirely baseless allegation. Such allegations and remarks about the judiciary are most unfortunate. Today, the BJP is in power, therefore, Congress is making allegations and tomorrow Congress will be in power, then the BJP will allege. These things the Bar will not tolerate. Therefore, the BCI, the highest statutory body, had to interfere in the matter.
Q: There are also allegations that “external forces” or bodies are trying to interfere in the functioning of the Supreme Court and the recent developments are a result of that. Do you think the entire issue was solely because of internal issues or were there some external forces that led to the judges coming out in front of the media?
A: No external factor can affect the functioning of our judiciary. It was purely based on internal differences. Our judiciary is most independent and it cannot be influenced by any outside agency or any government, however powerful it may be.
Q: Justice Loya’s death is being seen as one of the biggest factors that led to the recent developments, amid allegations that the case was not investigated properly.
A: There are two aspects to the matter. The matter related to Justice Loya’s death was listed before a bench of SC after which some of the lawyers tried to intervene in the matter and said that it should not be heard by the SC because the matter is pending before the Bombay High Court. But since the petitioner had moved the apex court with a request to the court that it should be investigated and enquired into, the SC issued notice and called for some documents which were to be placed before it. But then a coterie of lawyers known for their “nuisance values” started making comments or blaming the honourable judges who were hearing the case. This was made a big issue and on the next date of hearing, the judges said that they will not hear it and it should be listed before another “appropriate bench”. Now, any lawyer or litigant will start raising his voice against a judge and the judge will be compelled to recuse oneself from the matter. This has created a very wrong precedent. In any matter, the lawyer or litigant will start pointing a finger against the judge hearing the matter and he will demand that he should recuse.
Q: Vikas Singh, senior advocate and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, has called for contempt proceedings against Prashant Bhushan for “scandalising” the judiciary. What is your reaction?
A: As the chairman of the BCI, I should not comment on this matter right now. However, I have received certain complaints against Prashant Bhushan on the same issue and since we are the disciplinary authority, right now it will not be proper for me to say anything unless the matter and complaints against him are placed before the Council or proper authorities of the Council.
Q: Purely in legal context, is the conduct of the four senior-most judges of the SC against the rules of conduct and can it be a ground for impeachment?
A: No, no such conduct that might invite disciplinary action was done. They have not violated any such rule. Why impeachment? If some judge comes out and says something about some issues, it is not a subject matter for impeachment or contempt and, for that matter, not even criticism.