To Recuse Would Be To ‘Hunt and Tame’ The Judiciary: Justice Arun Mishra
Refusing to recuse himself, Justice Arun Mishra stated, "If we succumb to this prayer, this would be Bench hunting and taming the judiciary."
At the Supreme Court, Justice Arun Mishra today refused to recuse himself from a case that would be correcting one of his own previous judgements on the Land Acquisition Act.
The petitioners filed a plea requesting Justice Mishra not to hear the case on the grounds of the ‘bias of predisposition’. Justice Mishra had previously decided a case on the same matter.
Why was his recusal sought?
To put it simply, the petitioners claimed that knowing a judges stance on an issue before the arguments are made raises a real threat and reasonable doubt of judicial bias.
The core issue in the petitions relates to the interpretation of Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Land Acquisition Act, 2013).
Justice Mishra had delivered a judgement on this issue, as a part of a three-judge bench. But later, another three-judge bench also delivered an opposing judgement on the same issue.
To solve this conflict, the issue was taken to a Constitution Bench. This is usually what happens when judgements by Benches of equal strength deliver opposing verdicts on the same issue.
This is called the ‘corrective jurisdiction’ of a Constitutional Bench.
This means that there could be a conflict of interest, as Senior Counsel Shyam Divan pointed out in court, if Justice Mishra decides whether his own previous judgement needs correction.
How did Justice Arun Mishra react?
During the hearing, when Shyam Divan raised the issue of recusal, Justice Arun Mishra allegedly stated, "If we succumb to this prayer, this would be Bench hunting and taming the judiciary. You want the bench of your choice...that is destroying the very fundamentals of the system. I perceive it like that..."
His recusal was sought by certain parties to the litigation, including a farmers’ association. However, Justice Mishra rubbished these claims. Bar & Bench reports that he stated in court:
"Circumstances compelled me to hear this. This would be the blackest chapter in history if we succumb to this. There are forces...and I am not referring to media. Who are these persons?. Who is behind this (recusal application)? These are not the poor farmers. They are not farmers and I am saying it with a sense of responsibility."
So what now?
Justice Arun Mishra wrote a judgement explaining his reasons for not recusing himself. The other two judges of the Constitutional Bench - Justices MR Shah and Indira Banerjee - have both written concurring opinions. This leaves the petitioners to present the merits of the case and all arguments before the Bench starting at 2 PM today.