New Delhi: “We are not saleable commodities,” announced Justice Shekhar B. Saraf of the Calcutta High Court Friday while recusing in a matter.
Justice Saraf surprised many when he revealed in the open courtroom that he was approached by a lawyer representing one of the parties in the case he was scheduled to hear that day.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, who was appearing in the said case on behalf of the petitioner through video-conferencing, withdrew from the case when Justice Saraf told him that the “errant lawyer” belonged to the same party for whom Salve was appearing.
Taken aback, Salve termed the incident as “obnoxious” and claimed this was not the first time that he was being made aware of such a complaint.
Justice Saraf further revealed that the lawyer had requested the judge for a “favourable order” and called it an “unfortunate incident.”
“We are not saleable commodities. And if lawyers come and try and corrupt us, it becomes very difficult for us…. It’s very unfortunate that this is being done,” the judge said.
The judge, however, refrained from disclosing the individual’s identity and passed a single-page order on his recusal.
“Due to circumstances which are quite unfortunate, I release this matter on my personal ground,” the judge ordered.
He, however, later promised to reveal the identity of the advocate who approached him to senior advocate Dhruba Ghosh who, along with Salve, was appearing for the petitioner.
Speaking to ThePrint, Ghosh said all the lawyers in the court were bewildered when the judge spoke.
“We actually did not know how to react. If the judge had taken the name (of the lawyer) things would have been clearer,” Ghosh said.
The dispute pending before the court was a probate case.
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Justice Saraf ‘left shocked’
Justice Saraf expressed his anguish the moment the case came up for hearing and Salve appeared on the screen.
At the outset, the judge told him he was aware that Salve would be appearing in the matter because the lawyer who approached him told him about the hiring of the senior counsel for the case.
“It would have been my great fortune to have heard you in the matter, but circumstances are such that I shall not be able to do so at least on this occasion. And I will tell you why. I have been approached directly by somebody I would believe was from your side because that person indicated to me that you will appear in the matter,” the judge said.
It was “extremely unfortunate” that someone can walk into a judge’s chamber, he further said, adding “he was left shocked” when the lawyer approached him.
“I did not even say anything and just left it at that,” the judge remarked, saying if he wanted it could have “trapped” the lawyer.
According to Justice Saraf, the lawyer wanted to meet him again, but the judge chose to stay away from him.
To Justice Saraf, the entire episode revealed to him that the impression the public has about judges across India is that they can be approached thus.
Salve concurs with judge’s recusal
Salve “regretted” the incident and concurred with the judge’s view to recuse from the case.
“It is the worst possible thing. It is very unfortunate that this is what is being done. With a heavy heart I must say that this is not the first time I heard a complaint like this. Your lordship should not hear this matter and I will not appear in this matter,” he said.
Justice Saraf said what bothered him was that a senior lawyer such as Salve’s wisdom and intellect was being “used to perpetuate intellectual dishonesty and corruption”.
“By using a doyen of the Indian Bar, you try to push through an order,” he added.
In response, Salve said : “This is obnoxious, I will return the brief.”
Justice Saraf hoped Salve would appear in his court so that he gets an opportunity to hear his arguments.
Speaking about the perks of video conferencing, the judge said, “Because of this virtual connectivity, we get an opportunity to hear doyens of the Indian Bar. You should try and look for an opportunity to appear before me again.”
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)
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