In a blow to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed his plea questioning the decision of a judge to expedite hearing of a defamation suit filed against him by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said the appeals filed by Kejriwal and AAP leader Ashutosh against the July 26 decision of a single judge was “misconceived” and “devoid of merit”.
It said speedy trial was the “need of the hour” and “highly recommended in all cases”. “Indeed, the principle that every litigating party in a case, as well as every witness in a trial, civil or criminal, in court, is entitled to be treated with regard and respect, and not subjected to insults, insinuation, and injury, is a proposition so elementary as to obviate the necessity of reference to any further judicial authority in its support,” the bench said.
It said the appeals are totally misconceived and only serve to protract the proceedings which, in the interests of the parties to the lis, deserve to be brought to a quietus as soon as possible. “In view of the above, we are constrained to dismiss these appeals as devoid of merit,” the bench added.
The bench also said “we are constrained to observe, much against our will, that the present appeals essentially impugn a decision which is clearly aimed solely at ensuring orderly and dignified conducting of the trial proceedings. “Such appeals do disservice to the cause of justice in the long run, and we would request counsel to be more circumspect in raising such challenges. We say no more,” the bench said in its 33-page judgement.
The single judge on July 26 had directed the joint registrar of the high court to expedite the recording of evidence in the civil defamation suit filed against Kejriwal and five Aam Aadmi party leaders while disposing of an application filed by Jaitley. Senior counsel Anoop George Chaudhari and advocate Anupam Srivastava, who appeared for Kejriwal, had earlier contended that a judge could not interfere while proceedings related to recording of evidence was going in a court of joint registrar.
The bench in its judgement objected to their contention and noted “we fail to understand how the appellants can claim to be aggrieved by the order, so as to enable them to maintain the present appeals.” “The impugned order of the single judge limits itself to issuance of three directions, viz., that no attempt to scandalise or browbeat the respondent (Jaitley) would be permissible (for which purpose the undertaking of Chaudhuri was recorded), that the trial be expedited, and that only counsel, who are appearing in the present case, be allowed in the court room.”
The bench said that the single judge’s direction to expedite the trial between Kejriwal and Jaitley is “clearly unexceptionable and cannot be faulted for any reason.” The bench in its 33-page-order also observed that every trial deserves to be conducted with all due expedition, and that delay, in the progress of any legal proceeding, substantially defeats the cause of justice.
“It is an inalienable truism that no litigant can ever claim to be aggrieved by a judicial direction for expediting the process of a trial, or of recording of evidence therein. “In fact, this court is making every effort to address court delays and improve case management in all jurisdictions and cases, which range from implementing e-filings, promoting judicial education, effectuating scrutiny and evaluation of case pendency, and case management,” it added.
It also objected to the AAP leaders’ contention with regard to allowing only advocates appearing in the case to be present in the courtroom. The bench stated the court rooms of Joint Registrars, where the union minister is being cross-examined by Kejriwal’s counsel, are small in size, with limited seating capacity.
“Significantly, one of the concerns expressed by the counsel for the chief minister was that, if such a direction, of the single judge, were to be allowed to operate, apart from his own colleagues and assisting counsel, media persons would not be able to attend the hearing.
“While the fourth estate is certainly entitled to be accorded all due respect, in an era such as the present, given the practicalities of the matter, we are unable to appreciate such a contention. The directions, in the order of the single judge, are wholesome and in the best interests of orderly administration of justice,” it added. The high court had on August 25 rapped the chief minister for questioning a single judge’s decision to expedite the hearing of the defamation suit filed by Jaitley.
Besides Kejriwal, the five other accused in the Rs 10 crore defamation suit are AAP leaders Raghav Chadha, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai. They had accused the BJP leader of corruption as the president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), a post he had held from 2000 to 2013.
Jaitley, who denied all the allegations levelled by the AAP leaders in December 2015, had claimed that they made “false and defamatory” statements in the case involving the DDCA, thereby harming his reputation.