Senior judge of Gujarat High Court Justice Akil Kureshi Friday expressed anguish while recusing from hearing a set of appeal petitions moved by convicts in the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre case, including ex-BJP minister Maya Kodnani. Justice Kureshi, the seventh judge to recuse from the case in two years, without explaining the reason for his recusal, said “it is painful” and “it tarnishes the institution”.
“It is very painful. We will not say anything but it tarnishes the image of the institution and confidence of people… this should not have happened. I am bound by the court… I have no interest in this case,” Justice Kureshi said after dictating the order in open court.
Senior lawyers representing the case said Justice Kureshi decided to pull out after senior lawyer B B Naik recently joined the case despite knowing that this would amount to “conflict of interest”. The lawyers said they received calls moments before the court started functioning in the morning to come immediately. A lawyer said, “Naik is related to Justice Kureshi.”
In the presence of lawyers representing the accused and the prosecution, Justice Kureshi dictated the order: “When such large number of litigants are involved who are represented by large number of advocates, somewhere or the other it is bound to happen that one out of the two judges of the bench may not be taking up the cases of at least one out of the several advocates appearing. Particularly, when the appearance is made by the senior advocate at late a stage, we wonder would it not have been better if the advocate had recused rather than to request the court to do so.”
Senior counsel Nirupam Nanavati told the bench that “generally in the Supreme Court it is the advocates who recuse”.
Naik told The Indian Express: “The vakalatnama was filed long back when the matter was with another bench. Justice Kureshi is not taking up my matter. Once I had recused myself when the case was in his bench. Thereafter, the matter was not conducted and the bench was changed. Everytime I can’t recuse myself.”
Justice Kureshi wrote in his order, “These appeals have a history of several learned judges of this court recusing themselves from hearing due to one reason or the other.” Before Justice Kureshi, Justices M R Shah, Anant Dave, R H Shukla, Sonia Gokani, G B Shah and K S Jhaveri recused from the case.