The Supreme Court has reserved its orders on a plea that was moved by former IPS Officer Sanjiv Bhatt for recusal of Justice MR Shah from hearing his case.
A bench comprising of Justice MR Shah and Justice CT Ravikumar was hearing the plea filed by Bhatt in the Gujarat High Court challenging his conviction in a 1990 custodial death case.
As Justice Shah is retiring on May 15, he said the order on recusal will be pronounced tomorrow.
Advocate Devadatt Kamat, who appeared for Bhatt, requested Justice Shah to recuse from hearing, considering the fact that he has passed strictures against Bhatt while hearing his petitions arising out of the same FIR as a judge of the Gujarat High Court.
Kamat said that the test is not whether the judge is actually biased but whether there is a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the party that there is a likelihood of bias.
“Justice is not only to be done, but also seen to be done…judicial propriety would demand that your lordship (J. Shah) may not hear this matter”, Kamat submitted after referring to orders passed by Justice Shah against Bhatt.
Kamat also pointed out the colleague of Justice Shah in the bench, Justice CT Ravikumar, had recused from hearing the SNC-Lavlin case on the ground that he had dealt with the matter as a judge of the Kerala High Court.
Kamat stated that Justice Shah, as a judge of the Gujarat High Court, had observed that Bhatt was attempting to delay the trial, while dealing with his discharge petition.
In the present matter as well, where Bhatt is seeking to produce additional evidence, the allegation is that he is attempting to delay the hearing.
Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the State of Gujarat, opposed the plea for recusal. He said that several other cases of Bhatt have been dealt with by Justice Shah and in none of those cases, a plea for recusal was made. One cannot seek recusal selectively, the senior counsel said.
“He is effectively saying that you are biased against me. That is a dangerous submission, with no bona fides”, Singh said emphasising that such conduct amounts to contempt of court.
He further said that every bench which has dealt with Bhatt’s case, both in the High Court and the Supreme Court, has made adverse comments against him.Senior Advocate Atmaram Nadkarni, appearing for the complainant in the case, supported the stand of the State.
He said that the mere fact that a judge has commented in a previous case against a party will not amount to bias. He also said that Bhatt did not raise the plea for recusal when the petition seeking suspension of sentence in the same case came before Justice Shah.
“Judicial orders can never be a subject matter of bias. If that is the case, a party will say that a judge should not hear a matter because of an interim order passed in the case”, the senior counsel said.
In rejoinder, Kamat said that Bhatt’s earlier petition seeking suspension of sentence was withdrawn from the Supreme Court and no arguments took place.
“This is not against a particular judge. It is not a case that your lordship is biased. It is from a rights perspective”, Kamat said while concluding his arguments.
Bhatt has filed the Special Leave Petition through Advocate Aljo Joseph challenging the order passed by the High Court on August 24, 2022 which denied permission to him to produce additional evidence in the appeal under Section 391 CrPC.
In July 2019, the Sessions Court at Jamnagar in Gujarat had sentenced Bhatt to life imprisonment after finding him guilty for the custodial death of one Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani in 1990.
Before the trial court, he had filed an application to produce expert evidence of one doctor to support his argument that the death of Prabhudas was not due to the alleged sit ups he was made to do forcefully by the police.
The trial court had rejected the application.In the criminal appeal filed before the Gujarat High Court, Bhatt filed an application under Section 391 of the Code of Criminal Procedure seeking to adduce the expert evidence.