THE JUDGES “live in the glass houses and “it is not easy for them to respond to every allegation,” which is why it is easy to level allegations against them, a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court observed Tuesday. The bench of Chief Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Arun Palli observed was hearing a case where a woman has alleged that a sitting and a retired judge of the High Court influenced the outcome of a gang rape case in which their “relative” was an accused.
The victim had earlier directly approached the Chief Justice’s court for listing of a Public Interest Litigation related to her case. The HC Registry had earlier objected to the PIL in accordance with the rules on maintainability. After the listing was allowed on her insistence despite the objections, the case came up for hearing on Tuesday afternoon. The complainant appeared in person to argue her case in open court.
In the rape case registered in Sri Muktsar Sahib in 2011, the accused were acquitted in 2018 by the trial court. Her leave to appeal is pending in HC. A case of contempt – for allegedly insulting a judicial officer – is also being heard by the HC where bailable warrants were issued in March to secure her presence in court. In her PIL, she alleged that a sitting HC judge and some lawyers had put pressure on the lower court for acquittal of the accused.
While her criminal appeal and the contempt case are pending before different benches, the woman, in her PIL, has sought quashing of the acquittal order and also setting aside of the contempt proceedings. She has also sought stay on the appeal pending before the other division bench and its transfer to the Chief Justice’s court. However, the division bench, at the outset apprised her, that a PIL is not maintainable as only her private interest is involved in the case.
“Whatever you are suffering, we may have a lot of sympathy. (But) we as judges are also bound. We cannot cross the legal boundary,” the court observed. The woman, meanwhile, also alleged that some senior lawyers at the HC have threatened her that she will be convicted in the contempt case if she does not withdraw her appeal against the acquittal. The court replied she can file an FIR and avail the appropriate remedy.
The bench further told her that she was seeking quashing of a trial court order in the PIL and it cannot be done to which she replied that the HC has immense powers under Article 226 and can do so. While she insisted on seeking transfer of the cases to Chief Justice’s court, the division bench responded, “We don’t transfer cases at the behest of litigants. It is called bench hunting”. However, the bench, at the same time, also told her that they can appoint a lawyer for her at government expenses.
On naming a sitting HC judge in the petition, the bench observed, “You are in the gross contempt and grossest contempt. You have made allegations against a sitting judge.” While the woman continued to insist on passing of an order in her favour, the bench told her that the case cannot be decided on her “whims and fancy”. It , however, added that she can be provided a senior advocate for assistance.
The case was adjourned before the lunch break to allow the woman to cite an apex court verdict that the court can transfer the cases or quash the trial court orders under Article 226. After the lunch break, the woman handed over a printed document to the court. However, the bench told her that she has misread it and a PIL was not maintainable in her matter.
“We are not against you. We are trying to help you but we can help you within the parameters,” the bench said. The woman said her matter was not being heard by the other bench to which the court responded that on administrative side “some efforts will be made that your cases can be decided as early as possible”.
However, the woman insisted on an order to which Justice Murari responded that he cannot do so on the judicial side while sitting in the court and such an order has to be passed on the administrative side. The woman continued to insist on transferring the cases to the Chief Justice’s court. On this, the bench responded that if she does not have the faith in courts here, she may approach the Supreme Court to get the cases transferred to “courts falling outside the jurisdiction of the Punjab and Haryana High Court”.
“If you do not have trust in any institution or judge, then God help you” observed the bench to which the woman responded that she only wants justice. “I don’t know what justice means to you. It is your apprehension that the cases will not be decided on merits. You have made allegations against anyone,” the court said, adding, she may even level allegations against them.
In the middle of hearing, the woman also attempted to move out of court even as the bench was addressing her. Later, the bench asked her to come on Wednesday morning for the order. She also has to appear before a contempt court in the High Court on Wednesday before another bench.