Her judgeship spanned over 26 years, during which Justice Mridula Bhatkar served as the City Civil and Sessions judge in Mumbai and the principal district judge in Kolhapur before she was elevated to the Bombay High Court in 2009. Over the decades, she has presided over courts hearing the 7/11 serial bomb blasts case as well as convicted three in the Jalgaon sex scandal, which came to light in 1994. As she gets ready to hang her boots, she tells The Indian Express about her years on the bench and why she feels judges should have a say in the appointment of public prosecutors.
Many of your judgments have observations about society at large. How important do you think are judges’ observations in a judgment?
Judges should not have their personal agenda while writing a judgment, because as a judge we have to consider the law first. I have worked as the trial court judge, there is no opportunity for reasoning there because there you go by the facts, the law and the precedent. We have to follow the precedent. But every judge has his or her own background, ideas of worldly wisdom and the judge works in those notions also. When I see that there is no good case for the plaintiff, I am going to dismiss the case, though I feel that he or she should get their share. I will try my level best, whatever the law available can to help a plaintiff who has a really good case, but he is losing it because of the facts or the law, so sometimes that stitching is required by the judge to uphold justice.
What are your views on the legal aid system of the city?
I think some process is to be made to involve good and competent lawyers in legal aid. There are legal aid lawyers who are good, but still we require more. Sometimes, these competent lawyers should also do cases for free or at minimum fees. The lawyers, who are part of legal aid, I think government should pay them more. It shouldn’t be the case that you don’t pay them for six months, even they have to run their families and homes. The government should pay them decently, you cannot expect them to do this social work at the cost of everything else.
Do we have enough competent public prosecutors?
I think government should consult the judges while appointing government pleaders and public prosecutors because judges are the best persons who can assess their legal knowledge, depth and understanding of law. Judges have ample opportunity to assess the performance of a lawyer, so without consulting the judges, appointments are made and that is not correct at all. I am of the view that concurrence is required, I mean the judges’ word should have more weight than the government.
What are your views on the procedures followed in conducting inquiry into the allegations of sexual harassment leveled against the Chief Justice of India?
Unless I know the truth about the procedure, I think it will not be correct on my part to say anything, I don’t have any first-hand knowledge and I have only read news reports about the incident.
Do you think this would shake people’s faith in the judiciary?
I think we Indians love controversies. These days, people are so eager to comment on every situation that if something happens in the morning, they have to comment over it by afternoon. But before doing so, one has to observe, understand and digest an issue and then comment on it.
What are your views on the #MeToo movement that drew the nation’s attention to the prevalent sexual harassment that women have faced over the years?
If there is an incident of sexual harassment, I say deal with it then and there, because that’s what I will do. But if women are talking about an incident after many years, it cannot always be false. I myself have punished accused in three cases. In 1993-94, I dealt with the Jalgaon sex scandal trial, in this case, women came forward after five-six years. Out of 19 cases, I convicted the accused in three cases, relying on the evidence of the prosecutrix who came forward after five years. There was a delay in reporting the cases, but if delay is explained, we have to appreciate it. But it has to be explained satisfactorily.
About workplace, if the compliments by your colleague are in good sense then take it and if you don’t like it, you tell them that you don’t like it. We should be able to put things off at the right place.
What are your plans post-retirement?
I have no plans as of now but I would like to write a book about my husband Ramesh Bhatkar (A popular film and TV actor, he died on February 4), followed by a book on the memoirs of my judgeship and practise.