Voice from the Rooftop

Blog of Vincent Augustine D'Souza

Judgment delayed is justice denied

Justice delayed is justice denied. Judgment delayed is justice delayed. Therefore, judgment delayed is justice denied.

Judgment on Babri Mosque land was due on 24/9/2010. Uttar Pradesh government had made arrangements for maintaining law and order. Leaves of police personnel were cancelled. I&B Minister Ambika Soni and PM Manmohan Singh had appealed for calm. There were advertisements in newspapers appealing to maintain calm. Suddenly someone filed a petition that judgment be deferred to bring reconciliation. On 17/9/2010 the petition was dismissed and petitioner was fined Rs.50,000/-. TV channels first reported that the fine was Rs.10,00,000/-. How the figure came down from Rs.10,00,000/- to Rs.50,000/- is not known.

The matter should have ended with dismissal and fine on 17/9/2010. Then on 20/9/2010 one judge came with a dissent note. He said he was not consulted by the other two judges and disagreed with the decision to reject the plea to defer the judgment. He should have been with them when they heard the case and delivered judgment. To come with a dissent note after three days was not proper.

On 22/9/2010 the petitioner approached the Supreme Court. One judge said it was a civil matter and he had no jurisdiction to hear the case. On 23/9/2010 two judges heard the case. Justice R. V. Raveendran wanted to dismiss the petition. Justice H. L. Gokhale said even if there is 1% chance of reconciliation it should be tried. Allahabad High Court was to defer judgement. He made the central government a party to the dispute. Notices are to be issued to central government and some other parties. Hearing was to be on 28/9/2010.

The arguments that judgment must be deferred because there are Commonwealth Games, Barack Obama is to visit India, floods, Jammu & Kashmir problem, Bihar elections etc. are not valid.

The dispute has been pending in the court since 1949. That is 61 years. One judge of the Special Bench, Dharam Veer Sharma who did adharma by writing dissent note, retires on 1/10/2010. That will further delay the judgment. How long the Supreme Court judgment will delay the land dispute judgment is anybody’s guess. If the judgment had come within a few years the dispute would not have assumed large proportions and led to riots. A stitch in time saves nine.

Who is the petitioner? How did he suddenly appear? How did he hire an expensive lawyer like Mukul Rohatgi? How did the petition that was not in the morning list appear in the afternoon list? Some say there is hidden hand of Congress behind him as it does not want judgment to come out.

Some say India has moved on. Young people do not care. That is oversimplification. Some young people are more fundamentalist than people of previous generation. In West Bengal some Muslim students wanted their female teachers to wear burkha.

This reminds me of the film Damini. Sunny Deol plays a lawyer and he argues against delay in judgment. He says people come to court and all they get is date.

This also raises the question whether the Supreme Court has the authority to tell a High Court not to deliver judgment when the date has been set. This is for the first time a judge of the Supreme Court decided to tell the High Court to defer the judgment and another judge disagreed with him. There is no reason why one view should prevail on other. In future to avoid such things all benches should have at least three judges and in case of more than three judges the number should be odd.

Cases come to courts because people are unable to resolve disputes. It is not proper to ask the parties to settle the dispute out of court. In Babri Mosque land dispute there was no possibility of reconciliation. High Court judgment would not have been the end of judicial process. The losers would have appealed to the Supreme Court. After Supreme Court judgment there would have been review petition and curative petition.

H. L. Gokhale gave two excuses for delaying the judgment. First excuse, the Supreme Court would the first to be blamed if passions arise after the verdict. Supreme Court would not have been blamed for anything after the verdict. Now it is blamed for delaying judgment.

Second excuse, consequences of verdict will be felt by ordinary people and he was treating the application as of an ordinary person. It is common people who suffer from delays in judgment. If people feel the case may drag on to another 61 years some of them will do whatever they want and consequences will be disastrous.

In one divorce case the judge asked the couple to reconcile. After sometime the husband murdered the wife. If the judge had not asked them to reconcile the woman would have lived.

Once a High Court judge said CJI is not the boss of High Court judges. The judgment in the land case was ready. Justices S. U. Khan and Sudhir Agarwal should deliver the judgment without waiting for 28/9/2010, whether Dharam Veer Sharma agrees or not. Their act will not be defiance of Supreme Court, it may be defiance of H. L. Gokhale. If S. U. Khan and Sudhir Agarwal deliver the judgment the country will be grateful to them and they will create history.

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