The reported move to disqualify the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court, Justice M M Punchhi from taking over as the next Chief Justice in January has snowballed into an unsavoury controversy, vertically dividing the legal community.
The move was initiated by a group calling itself the committee on judicial accountability led by senior lawyers Shanti Bhushan, Ram Jethmalani, Indira Jaising and others. They had made a representation to the President who handed it over to the Chief Justice of India, who in turn, is reported to have referred it to a committee of senior judges of the apex court.
A large number of Supreme Court lawyers opposed this move and they have called an emergency meeting of the Bar Assocation next week to oppose the move of the committee. Stung by this move, the committee yesterday passed a resolution condemning the proposed resolution of the Supreme Court Bar Association objecting to its representation to the President.
Its members have declared that they would boycott the Bar Association meeting.
According to the resolution, the Bar Association cannot discuss the conduct of a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, as it would amount to contempt of court. It quoted the recent judgment of the court in the A M Bhattacharjee case (where the chief justice of the Bombay high court had to resign following allegations of getting large sums from a foreign publisher) to buttress its argument.
According to this 1995 judgment, when the Chief Justice of India is seized of the matter, to avoid embarrassment to him and to allow fairness of procedure, the Bar should suspend all further actions.
The committee resolution stated that the charges contained in the representation were not known to the Bar Association. Therefore, it was surprising and un-understandable how the association can discuss it at all.