A Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court on Thursday declined to interfere in a plea registering protest over the recent letter addressed by the Bar Council of West Bengal to the Chief Justice of India for the removal of the High Court's Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal. [Akshya Kumar Sarangi v. Bar Council of West Bengal and Anr.]
The court said that the Bar and Bench are the two pillars of the judicial system" and fair and legitimate criticism to a judgment in a healthy way is always welcome.
However, if it is aimed with some motive and malice, without any foundation on a real cause, such an errant person should be dealt with iron hands, the Court added.
The Bench of Justices Harish Tandon and Subhasis Dasgupta were dealing with a public interest litigation petition filed by advocate Akshaya Sarangi, who sought disciplinary action to be initiated against West Bengal Bar Council Chairman Ashok Kumar Deb.
This was in view of a letter signed off by Deb and addressed to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana seeking the removal of the Calcutta High Court's Acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal. The petitioner-advocate claimed to espouse the cause of four dissenting members of the State’s Bar Council. He argued that Deb had used Council’s official letterhead and percolated his own views rather than the collective views of the members of the Bar Council.
The petitioner, therefore, accused Deb of being in “flagrant violation” of the statutory provisions and the rules governing the Bar Council and misconduct.
The Court, however, declined to delve too deep into the controversy. The Bench opined that since the four dissenting members of the Bar Council were also practicing advocates, they had other statutory legal recourses already available to them if they feel that the statutory provisions had been violated.
Before disposing of the matter, the Court also made several pertinent observations on larger issues concerning the Bar and the Bench. The Court highlighted that the “synergy” between the Bar and the Bench was “sentinel in que vive” and that the administration of the justice required the coordination and cooperation of the two in order to build the confidence of the public in the judicial system.
The Bench also referred to the Supreme Court's ruling in Brahmaprakash Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh wherein it was held that when attacks or disparaging, derogatory or indignified comments are made against a Judge or Judges, care and caution must be made to distinguish between a libel on a Judge and contempt of Court.
The Court went on to remark and said that fair and legitimate criticism to a judgment in a healthy way is always welcome but if it is aimed with some motive and malice without any foundation on a real cause such errant person should be dealt with iron hands as it hampers the judicial system and fairness and impartiality of the Court in discharging their duties entrusted under the Constitution. On a parting note, the Court also cited the Supreme Court's observations in the S Mulgaokar case: that they do not intend to make any further comments thereon and leave the matter with the caveat to the observations made therein by Justice Krishna Iyer in his celebrated judgment rendered in case of Re S Mulgaookar. The Court will act with seriousness and severity where justice is jeopardized by a gross and/or unfounded attack on the Judges, where the attack is calculated to obstruct or destroy the judicial process.
The petitioner had argued that neither was a meeting of the members of the Bar Council called, nor was there a resolution on the issue, which was reflected from the letter of the four dissenting members. The chairperson’s conduct was alleged to be “scurrilous, intemperate and aimed to tarnish the image of a Judge” which would have ramifications on the impartiality and fairness of the judicial system. Opposing the plea, the counsel appearing for the respondents stressed that the State’s Bar Council was a statutory body to protect and preserve the interest of the members of the legal profession and that if such a body had represented a specific class of persons in the form of a resolution to raise their grievance, there was no fetter in doing so. It was also pointed out that the members of the Bar Council had a closed-door meeting with the Acting Chief Justice on June 16, 2021 to make him aware of their grievances.
On having sensed that the grievances were not addressed, a resolution was stated to have been taken on June 19, 2021, by the members of the Bar Council authorizing the Chairperson, to make a decision and write a letter, the High Court was told. The letter in question had set out a slew of grounds for making the request to remove Acting Chief Justice Bindal, including alleged biased and improper listing and hearing of various cases like the Narada scam, Mamata Banerjee's election petition, and a case on wastage of medicines in the State. Advocates Srikanta Dutta and Rituparna Sarkar Dutta represented the petitioner. Advocates Jishnu Choudhury, Sabnam De, and Maharnab Roy appeared for the respondents.