Justice P.D. Dinakaran v Hon’ble Judges Inquiry Committee and others
Fifty members of the Rajya Sabha submitted a notice of motion for presenting an address to the President of India for removal of the petitioner, who was then posted as Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, under Article 217 read with Article 124(4) of the Constitution of India. The notice enumerated the acts of misbehaviour allegedly committed by the petitioner and was accompanied by an explanatory note and documents in support of the allegations. After the motion was admitted, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha constituted a Committee comprising Shri PP Rao, Senior Advocate (respondent No.3) and two others.
The prayers made in the petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution were for quashing order dated 24.4.2011 passed by the Committee constituted by the Chairman of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) under Section 3(2) of the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968 and for grant of a declaration that the proceedings conducted by the Committee on 24.4.2011 are null and void, the tenor of the grounds on which these prayers founded showed that the petitioner was also aggrieved by the inclusion of Shri P.P. Rao, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India in the Committee under Section 3(2)(c) of the Act.
Immediately after issue of notification dated 15.1.2010 under Section 3(2) of the Act, the newspapers carried reports suggesting that there was an objection to the inclusion of respondent No.3 in the Committee on the ground that he had given legal opinion to the petitioner in December, 2009. On reading the newspaper reports, respondent No.3 sent letter dated 19.1.2010 to the Chairman with the request that he may be relieved from the Committee. After due consideration, the Chairman declined to accept the request of respondent No.3 and asked him to continue as member of the Committee. Thereupon, respondent No.3 sent letter dated 21.1.2010 and agreed to accept the assignment.
Petitioner argued that inclusion of respondent No.3 in the Committee constituted by the Chairman has the effect of vitiating the proceedings held so far because the said respondent was biased against the petitioner. Petitioner argued that a fair, impartial and unbiased investigation into the allegations levelled against him was an integral part of fundamental right to life guaranteed to the petitioner under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution and he could not be deprived of that right by invoking the doctrine of waiver. In support of his arguments, Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248, M.H. Hoskot v. State of Maharashtra (1978) 3 SCC 544, Ranjit Thakur v. Union of India (1987) 4 SCC 611, Triveniben v. State of Gujarat (1989) 1 SCC 678, R v. Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate and others, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (No.2) (1999) 1 All ER 577 and In re: Medicaments and Related Classes of Goods (No.2) 2001 (1) WLR 700 were cited.
Two questions which arose for consideration before the Hon’ble Supreme Court were whether by virtue of his active participation in the seminar organised by the Bar Association of India on 28.11.2009 and his opposition to the elevation of the petitioner to this Court were sufficient to disqualify respondent No.3 from being included in the Committee constituted under Section 3(2) of the Act and whether by his conduct the petitioner will be deemed to have waived his right to object to the appointment of respondent No.3 as a member of the Committee.
The Supreme Court observed that consideration of the aforesaid question need to be prefaced by a brief reference to the nature and scope of the rule against bias and how the same had been applied by the Courts of common-law jurisdiction in India for invalidating judicial and administrative actions/orders. Natural justice is a branch of public law. It is a formidable weapon which can be wielded to secure justice to citizens. Rules of natural justice are ‘basic values’ which a man has cherished throughout the ages. Principles of natural justice control all actions of public authorities by applying rules relating to reasonableness, good faith and justice, equity and good conscience. Natural justice is a part of law which relates to administration of justice. Rules of natural justice are indeed great assurances of justice and fairness. The underlying object of rules of natural justice is to ensure fundamental liberties and rights of subjects. They thus serve public interest. The golden rule which stand firmly established is that the doctrine of natural justice is not only to secure justice but to prevent miscarriage of justice.
The Court further observed that the traditional English Law recognised the following two principles of natural justice:
“(a) “Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa: No man shall be a judge in his own cause, or no man can act as both at the one and the same time – a party or a suitor and also as a judge, or the deciding authority must be impartial and without bias; and
(b) Audi alteram partem: Hear the other side, or both the sides must be heard, or no man should be condemned unheard, or that there must be fairness on the part of the deciding authority.”
In the present case, the Court was concerned with the application of first of the two principles of natural justice recognized by the traditional English Law, i.e., Nemo debet esse judex in propria
causa. This principle consist of the rule against bias or interest and is based on three maxims: (i) No man shall be a judge in his own cause; (ii) Justice should not only be done, but manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done; and (iii) Judges, like Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion. The first requirement of natural justice is that the Judge should be impartial and neutral and must be free from bias. He is supposed to be indifferent to the parties to the controversy. He cannot act as Judge of a cause in which he himself has some interest either
pecuniary or otherwise as it affords the strongest proof against neutrality. He must be in a position to act judicially and to decide the matter objectively. A Judge must be of sterner stuff.
His mental equipoise must always remain firm and undetected. He should not allow his personal prejudice to go into the decision making. The object is not merely that the scales be held even; it
is also that they may not appear to be inclined. If the Judge is subject to bias in favour of or against either party to the dispute or is in a position that a bias can be assumed, he is disqualified
to act as a Judge, and the proceedings will be vitiated. This rule applies to the judicial and administrative authorities required to act judicially or quasi-judicially.
Coming to the facts of the case the Supreme Court held that it was not in dispute that respondent No.3 participated in the seminar organised by the Bar Association of India of which he was Vice-President. He demanded public inquiry into the charges levelled against the petitioner before his elevation as a Judge of this Court. During the seminar, many eminent advocates spoke against the proposed elevation of the petitioner on the ground that there were serious allegations against him. Thereafter, respondent No.3 drafted a resolution opposing elevation of the petitioner as a Judge of this Court. He along with other eminent lawyers met the then Chief Justice of India. These facts could give rise to reasonable apprehension in the mind of an intelligent person that respondent No.3 was likely to be biased. A reasonable, objective and informed person may say that respondent No.3 would not have opposed elevation of the petitioner if he was not satisfied that there was some substance in the allegations levelled against him. The issue of bias of respondent No.3 was not to be seen from the view point of the Supreme Court or for that matter the Committee. It had to be seen from the angle of a reasonable, objective and informed person. The Supreme Court held that in the facts of the case, it could be said that petitioner’s apprehension of likelihood of bias against respondent No.3 was reasonable and not fanciful, though, in fact, he might not be biased.
The next question was whether order passed by the Committee on 24.4.2011 should be quashed on the ground of reasonable likelihood of bias of respondent No.3. The Court held that it was not possible to entertain the petitioner’s plea that constitution of the Committee should be declared nullity on the ground that respondent No.3 was biased against him.
The Supreme Court concluded that belated raising of objection against inclusion of respondent No.3 in the Committee under Section 3(2) appeared to be a calculated move on the petitioner’s part. And the Supreme Court or, for that reason, no Court could render assistance to the petitioner in a petition filed with the sole object of delaying finalisation of the inquiry.
However, keeping in view the finding on the issue of bias, the Court requested the Chairman to nominate another distinguished jurist in place of respondent No.3. As the proceedings initiated against the petitioner had progressed only to the stage of framing of charges and the Committee was yet to record its findings on the charges and submit report, therefore, nomination of another jurist would not hamper the proceedings of the Committee and the reconstituted Committee should be entitled to proceed on the charges already framed against the petitioner. The writ petition was thus dismissed with the aforesaid observations.