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Usually, I try to keep away ‘off-topic’ issues on the blog but some of the recent events at the Delhi High Court, involving the boycott of Justice Valmiki Mehta are simply too shocking to ignore and I felt compelled to discuss the issue on the blog.
Apparently, upset with the way in which Justice Valmiki Mehta was running his court room, the Delhi High Court Bar Association (DHCBA) resolved through its executive committee that “members of the Bar shall boycott the Court” for one day. According to unconfirmed reports, it appears that the boycott was enforced by physically barricading the doors to Justice Mehta’s courtroom, therefore preventing lawyers from entering the courtroom. The notice of the DHCBA and a news report on the same can be accessed over here on Legally India.
According to the ‘Notice’ published by the DHCBA, calling for the one-day boycott, the DHCBA was upset with the fact that Justice Mehta was “excessively harsh in imposing costs on an unprecedented scale” and that his “lordship’s demeanour on the Bench has been wanting of this august office”. Without giving any specifics of the cases where costs were imposed, the notice which was written in terribly poor taste and calculated to intimidate, if not humiliate the judge, laments how “Conspicuously it looks like that the Bar as a whole can be subjected to the caprices of an ‘knight errand’ despite the fact that it always conducts its business as prudent officers of the Court”.
As if such denigrating language was not enough, the notice also states that its repeated complaints to successive Chief Justices have not resulted in any ‘carminative effects’. I had to look up the meaning of the word in the dictionary, it means and I quote “expelling gas from the stomach or intestines so as to relieve flatulence or abdominal pain or distension”. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Is this the language that the lawyers of the Delhi High Court have been reduced to, especially when they are the ones complaining of ‘brusque remarks’ from the judges of the Delhi High Courts? Is this the language that we expect to hear from ‘prudent officers of the court’?
One would expect a notice of this kind to actually educate its readers on the nature of the complaint instead of indulging in rhetoric, hyperbole and name-calling. Clearly, that is expecting too much because the notice gives absolutely no specifics of Justice Mehta’s conduct. Which case, how much costs, what were the circumstances involved? How can you condemn any man, more so a judge, without even explaining the specifics of his alleged crime?
The greater crime however is the ‘resolution’ that follows from the 2 paragraph charge-sheet: the first being the boycott and the second being the brazen demand that Justice Mehta, who currently is an additional judge, not be recommended “for a further extension of his tenure or for confirmation”.
Before being elevated to the Bench in April, 2009, Justice Mehta was a Senior Advocate, of considerable repute and who had a booming private practice before the Delhi High Court. Like most of his brethren, he could have presumably continued to mint money at the Bar. Yet, he opted for public service, a difficult choice for any successful lawyer. That Justice Mehta is hard-working is beyond doubt and that is evidenced by the fact that since he was elevated to the bench, in 2009, he has delivered, according to the website of the Delhi HC, a total of 1,203 judgements, which is more than double the average of the Delhi High Court. Since lawyers in India today are the biggest and most inefficient cogs in the judicial machine, with their constant requests for unwarranted adjournments, it can only be assumed that Justice Mehta achieved this prodigious feat of delivering 1203 judgements, by running a strict courtroom with few adjournments and heavy costs on errant lawyers. Costs imposed by a single judge, can always be appealed and in a fit case, set aside.
Given his stellar record on the bench and the ever-present option to appeal his erroneous orders, one would have expected the DHCBA to make out a case, which goes beyond name-calling and flatulent pejoratives.
Instead such intimidation only serves to reduce the morale of judiciary and coerce judges to be lenient towards the coterie of lawyers who are powerful within bar associations. It is quite obvious that the notice seeks to make an example of Justice Mehta and send out a signal to the remaining judges in the High Court.
As for the reports of lawyers physically barricading his courtroom, if true, this is a clear cut case of contempt of court since it results in interfering with the administration of justice, more so than the alleged misreporting by the media of Supreme Court proceedings. Unfortunately, contempt proceedings almost never work when it comes to bar associations or lawyers and the DHCBA is going to get away scot-free with its conduct.