Friday, June 2, 2023

Custodial death case: Ex-IPS Sanjiv Bhatt seeks recusal of Justice MR Shah from hearing his plea in Supreme Court

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Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt on Tuesday sought the recusal of Justice MR Shah from hearing his petition in the Supreme Court related to the custodial death case, stating that the subject matter of the present plea was earlier decided by Justice Shah, when he was a Judge of the Gujarat High Court.

As the matter came up for hearing today before the Bench of Justice M.R. Shah and Justice C.T. Ravikumar, Bhatt sought recusal of Justice Shah on the grounds that certain issues, which were the subject matter of this Special Leave Petition, had been decided by him, while he was officiating as a Judge of the Gujarat High Court.

The application by Bhatt further said that since the present SLP arose out of the same FIR, he apprehended that the ends of justice may not meet, if the petition was heard by the same Judge.

The Advocate appearing for the complainant requested to adjourn the matter as she was not able to file her response owing to poor health.

Appearing for Bhatt, Senior Advocate Devadatt Kamath contended that he was not saying that the Judge was biased, but that he had an apprehension of bias. As per Kamath, sometimes, people had to perform some unpleasant duties.

The Bench then told the Counsel that his apprehension should have a reasonable nexus. It observed that there was only one matter before the High Court related to Bhatt, which pertained to a different controversy. 

The Counsel then replied that the SLP was arising as part of the same FIR, which was heard by the Gujarat High Court.

The Supreme Court then adjourned the matter to January 10 for further hearing.

On June 20, 2019, the Sessions Court at Jamnagar in Gujarat had sentenced Bhatt to life imprisonment after finding him guilty of custodial death of one Prabhudas Madhavji Vaishnani in 1990.

The former IPS officer had filed an application before the Trial Court 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, but the Trial Court rejected his application.

Bhatt then moved the Gujarat High Court, filing an application under Section 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, the application seeking to adduce the expert evidence was dismissed by the High Court in August, 2022.

He then filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the High Court listed Bhatt’s criminal appeal for regular hearing.

Although his lawyers sought adjournment, the High Court refused. The present SLP in the Apex Court contended that grave hardship would be caused, if the High Court proceeded to hear the criminal appeal without awaiting the outcome of the earlier SLP filed in the Supreme Court for adducing additional evidence.

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