Bombay High Court judge recuses herself from hearing criminal revision plea after letter alleges bias, seeks CBI probe

Bombay High Court judge, Justice Bharati Dangre, has recused herself from hearing a criminal revision application after she received a letter alleging that she continued interim relief illegally in case (Suresh Kevalram Khemani & Ors vs Central Bureau of Investigation & Ors) for monetary favours.

Taking the letter on record, the High Court judge issued a five-page order, saying that it was easy for her to recuse without disclosing the reason, but it was high time that some accountability was attributed to the disgruntled elements, who continued to haunt the system by their unscrupulous acts and walked away without waiting for the consequences of their intimidating tactics.

It was time to show such elements that the system would continue its unflinching loyalty to justice, even after a Judge recused from the matter, asserted Dangre, while ordering a copy to be sent to the Registrar.

She further directed the High Court Registry to give a copy of the letter to Advocate Kuldeep Patil, who was representing CBI in the case, to submit the same to the Mumbai Headquarters of the national agency for a probe into the incident.

The High Court judge, while noting that this was not the first communication casting aspersions on the ‘dispensers of justice,’ urged the CBI to conduct an inquiry into this ‘judicial impropriety’ and ascertain the veracity and identity of the sender, since the sender has disclosed his name and address on the envelope, as well as in the communication.

She observed that some unscrupulous people definitely cannot use recusal as a tool to manoeuvre justice, as a means of Bench hunting or forum shopping, or as an instrument to evade judicial work.

As per Justice Dangre, she was hearing a criminal revision application filed by one Suresh Khemani accused in a CBI case for alleged excise fraud. The matter was placed before her for the first time in August after an earlier judge recused from the case.

The High Court judge said she continued interim relief to the petitioner and listed the matter for further hearing on September 14. 

Four days before the hearing, Justice Dangre said she received a letter at her residence by one Hiten Thakkar from Vile Parle, which alleged that an earlier bench had recused itself from hearing the case and that Justice Dangre had continued interim relief illegally to the accused for monetary favours.

She noted that in the given situation, she could either recuse herself from the matter in hand or continue with the same, ignoring the accusations of bias.

The High Court judge said a Judge may be impartial, but if a perception was carried by one party that he/she was not, then recusal was the only option. 

After reading the letter, Justice Dangre said she may now lack the imperative requirement of being part of a ‘manifestly independent’ decision-making process as justice must not only be done, but it must seem to be done. 

She asserted that she had a clear conscience that she was still ‘Independent’ and capable of discharging her duty in deciding the case, remaining uninfluenced by the communication addressed to me. 

However, she deemed it appropriate to recuse herself not because she had been asked to decide one way, but because she felt it necessary to do so, in order to avoid further accusations of favour being shown.

Justice Dangre further said that if she had to dispel the accusations, she might necessarily have been compelled to decide the other way, which may even mean injustice to one of the parties.

Appearing for the accused, Senior Advocate Aabad Ponda and Advocate Nilesh Tribhuvan demanded initiation of contempt of court proceedings against the sender of the letter, however, Justice Dangre said that she would first wait for the CBI inquiry report before making any decision one way or the other.