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Above: Karnataka High Court and (inset) Justice Jayant Patel. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

The Karnataka HC’s senior-most judge was transferred to Allahabad HC where he would have been third in queue for chief justice post

In a first, a judge of a high court in India has resigned, protesting his not being made chief justice despite him being the senior-most judge at that point of time, say reports. Justice Jayant Patel of the Karnataka High Court, who famously ordered a CBI enquiry into the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case in Gujarat, sent his resignation letter to Chief Justice S K Mukherjee on Monday. Justice Mukherjee is set to retire on October 9, unless he is elevated to the Supreme Court.

Patel is the senior-most judge of the Karnataka High Court after the chief justice, and had come in from the Gujarat High Court where he was Acting Chief Justice. It has been said that Justice Patel was angered because he was transferred to the Allahabad High Court, where he would be the third most senior judge with little or no chance of becoming chief justice and moving to the Supreme Court.

Justice Patel’s action has found resonance with the Gujarat High Court Bar Association which had addressed the Collegium, calling his transfer to Bengaluru “shocking”. He was transferred as a judge, despite being an Acting Chief Justice before that. The letter, written by the association’s president Asim Pandya, not only complained about vacancies in the high courts, but had come down heavily on the executive’s interference into the selections.

Some eminent lawyers have moved in with huge criticism, complaining about unnecessary political intervention into the selection and transfer of top judges, affecting the entire judicial selection and posting system. The political ire may have emanated from Justice Patel’s decision in the Ishrat Jahan case where he had not only ordered the probe, but had also monitored it personally.

Senior advocate Yatin Oza has been quoted in the media as saying: “During the (Ishrat Jahan) encounter cases, (former) Chief Justice Mukhopadhaya had assigned all the matters to Justice Patel. There are people who are critics of Justice Patel, but none of his critics can say that he is a judge who will compromise his honesty and integrity. They wanted Justice Patel to act according to their wishes. But he is one judge who will never, ever ditch the Constitution.”

The issue has certainly not seen its end.

—India Legal Bureau

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