Impeachment talk 'unfortunate', says SC
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said it was "very disturbed" at the course of developments involving public statements by the Members of Parliament (MPs) on the removal of the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
The observations were made during the hearing of a petition, a few hours before the Congress and other opposition parties submitted a notice to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu for initiating impeachment proceedings against CJI Dipak Misra.
The apex court said it was "very unfortunate" that despite knowing the law that till a certain point, the issue of impeachment cannot be made public, the politicians were holding public discussions.
After a brief hearing, a bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan sought the assistance of Attorney General KK Venugopal to deal with the issue and a plea which has sought laying of guidelines to regulate the procedure to be followed prior to initiating a motion for removing a judge of the top court.
"We all are very disturbed about it," Justice Sikri said while asking the Attorney Generel to assist in the matter.
The move came a day after the apex court rejected the pleas of those, including Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla, seeking an independent probe into the death of special CBI Judge B H Loya, who was hearing the high-profile Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case in which BJP President Amit Shah was discharged by the court.
During the hearing today, the apex court refused to gag the media at this stage from publishing or telecasting any information relating to the discussions and deliberations on removal of judges of either the apex court or the high courts.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, representing an NGO, 'In Pursuit of Justice', argued that politicians were making all kinds of public statements about removal of a judge without there being any motion in this regard before Parliament.
There can be no discussion (about removal of a judge) till a point because that will have a serious impact on the functioning of the judge concerned," she said, adding, "we are divided on polarised lines. Politics is divided on it".
Apparently convinced with the argument, the bench observed, "this is very unfortunate what is happening".
When Arora raised the issue of gagging the media from publishing such public statements, the bench said, "the law is very clear. Everybody knows the law. Even legislature knows the law. Can we take it up on the judicial side, that is what we have to see".
The counsel, however, said a judge has to perform his duties "fearlessly" and such public statements cannot be made by the politicians like this.
The lawyer then requested the bench, "please restrain the media". To this, the apex court said it would not do so without hearing the Attorney General and posted the matter for hearing on May 7.
The plea, filed by the NGO, has sought laying down of guidelines or modalities regulating procedure to be followed by MPs, desirous of initiating proceedings for removal of a judge of the Supreme Court or a high court, prior to initiating a motion under Article 124(4) and (5) and 217(1)(b) of the Constitution.
The petitioner has said the cause of action arose in the matter when a draft motion for removal of the CJI was released to the press on March 27 which had an effect of intimidating the judiciary. "The Petitioners are also aggrieved by the act of bringing the draft motion in the public domain including releasing the same in the press and further statements being given by various MPs regarding their intention of initiating a motion to remove a judge of the Supreme Court even before such a motion was made in pursuance of the provision of Article 124(4) and (5) of the Constitution," the plea said.
Article 124(4) and (5) deal with the procedure to be followed for removal of an apex court judge.
The plea also referred to various media reports carrying the statements of MPs and politicians in this regard and said no law was made by Parliament which permits the circulation of draft notice of motion to the press.
"A threat to the independence of the judiciary in dispensing justice, without fear or favour, has violated the fundamental rights of the petitioners...," it said, adding any such statement should be first made in the house, while it is in session, before releasing them to the press or bringing it in public domain.
It said such discussions in public domain amounted to "intimidation of the judiciary" and was a "gross abuse" of the process of law.
"This scurrilous abuse of a judge and attack on his personal character is punishable contempt," it said, adding that these "illegal acts" of parliamentarians have the effect of "scandalising" the court.
It claimed that as per media reports, the acts of certain lawmakers have "demeaned, damaged and placed at risk independence of judiciary".
"The nation's interest requires that criticism of the judiciary must be measured, strictly rational, sober and proceed from the highest motives without being coloured by partisan spirit or pressure tactics or intimidatory attitude," it said.
The plea also said that the freedom of speech and expression does not postulate bringing down the image and intimidating the judiciary and setting a "dangerous trend".