Hung Judiciary

Can anyone figure out what’s happening in J’s disproportionate assets case? Laymen and lawmen alike are clueless in this slushy, sinister and inscrutable legal quagmire. Sadly, the judiciary has itself to blame for getting tied up in knots in public.

There were insinuations even during the run up and after the Sep 27 verdict. They fizzled soon. And that was a lower court in the hierarchy. It is the shenanigans in the wiser ‘higher’ courts, HC and SC, that have stumped all. Raised eyebrows are rising in alarming numbers ever since J’s bail as the case advances rung by run on the legal ladder.

The suit put snails to shame by dragging for 18 years before finally finding fruition. Bail was rejected for the four convicts in K’taka HC. Controversies kicked off on 17 Oct, the last day before the court closed for Deepavali, when SC CJ took up the application first thing in the morning when the case was listed 72 and granted bail in minutes. A delay would have been deadly to the jailbirds. The written order is still invisible but J returned to Chennai to a national hero’s welcome very next day.

Also it is learnt that no notice was sent to the prosecution to present its objections to bail. Also, there was a convenient confusion on who between TN and K’taka Governments was the real prosecution. The original complainants, S Swamy and A’azhagan, were not allowed to make their points either. The SC asked J & Co file to file their appeal in K’taka HC in two months. Nothing unusual! But stranger than fiction was its strict order to K’taka HC that it complete the hearing in 3 months flat and give verdict! Now, that’s as unusual as it gets.

The specious argument that corruption cases be fast-tracked somehow seemed spurious here. Many legal luminaries have pointed out the unprecedented judicial haste to wrap up the case. The 18-year original process and just a three month rushed trial does seem, er, disproportionate. Can a higher court, be it the SC itself, fix a time limit, a stiff one at that, at all? More so for such a complicated case that needed deep discretion and application of mind? That too when many other high profile persons have found bail most elusive in the same SC? And ever with such soft conditions?

The appeal landed on time. K’taka said its role ended at the trial court. It was now a bizarre situation of the TN Government taking on the ‘makkal mudalvar’ under whose guidance it functioned, by its own official announcements. It stuck with Bhavani Singh as its prosecutor, instantly raising the suspicions of the opposition here. This BSingh was actually pulled up and even fined by Justice Michael D’cunha of trial court for shoddy work and frequent absence. A’zhagan’s plea in K’taka HC asking for quashing BSingh’s appointment as PP was denied and the trial went on. He appealed to SC which waited.

And after the K’taka HC completed the trial with BSingh as PP, the SC came with a vertically, viciously split verdict, casting a shadow on the trial itself. The two judges gave completely different arguments justifying their stand on BSingh’s legality, with nary a common point, a disturbing rarity. Particularly, the one objecting to BSingh was quite scathing on corruption and how the high and mighty influence the course of justice. In between, suddenly, the K’taka HC CJ was transferred under unconvincing circumstances, drawing political fire. The 3-Judge SC Bench, formed superfast post the divided 2-judge bench, made a rather piquant pronouncement last week: B Singh’s appointment not valid, but no retrial. The Bench’s laboured and lethal remarks on corruption are seen as a foregone indictment as also as a message to its own fraternity, down and up, too. After all, the case looks in tearing hurry to reach the ‘top’!

So we have a trial conducted by someone who had no locus standi from the start. The original PP in the case, Acharya, a honest man hounded for whatever reasons, was reappointed in a jiffy owing to his familiarity with the nitty gritties. A’Azagan was asked to file his affidavit in 90 pages the next day; he took 81 and 12 hrs. K’taka Govt, the prosecution (the only thing clear now) was given 50 pages and one day. Acharya took 18 and as many minutes, saying that his original averments and Cunha’s judgement are his arguments. The HC will now have to deliver verdict by May 12, another divine deadline set by Hon SC CJ Dattu. By the way, the SC will sit last on 15 May, before it goes on summer vacation. Just 3 days for bail, pardon, ball to fall in its court. There are guesses galore that the HC may advance the verdict!

The speculations on special speed vitiates the canon that justice must be done and also appear to be done. But worse is the growing impression of a divided judiciary. Differences on points of law are perfectly fine. But conflict and compromise are taboo even as rumours.

That said, how nice it feels to be on the same page with smart lawmen, albeit, if only in confusion!

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Jawahar T R