SC restrains high courts from entertaining any petition related to the judge’s death
Describing it a “serious” issue, the Supreme Court on Monday transferred to itself two petitions pending before the Bombay High Court relating to the alleged mysterious death of special CBI judge BH Loya in 2014. It also restrained all the high courts in the country from entertaining any petition related to the judge’s death. The Loya case is seen as the trigger for the four senior-most Supreme Court judges — justices J Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph — to hold an unprecedented press conference to raise issues of “lack of accountability” and the Chief Justices of India assigning important cases to “preferred” junior judges. Loya died in Nagpur on December 1, 2014, after attending a marriage party. He was then presiding over the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case where BJP president Amit Shah was named an accused. Shah was discharged by a new judge later in the same month on grounds that there wasn’t enough evidence for a trial. Meanwhile, heated arguments took place during an hour-long hearing when former Supreme Court Bar Association president and senior lawyer Dushyant Dave, who was appearing for the intervenors (Bombay Lawyers’ Association), objected to senior lawyer Harish Salve representing the Maharashtra government in the case, saying he had appeared for Shah before. “It is conflict of interest,” said Dave.
He alleged that “Salve has done enough damage to this court. He has appeared for Shah in this matter. All this is being done to protect him. I have a problem with the way this matter is being dealt by the government”. Salve replied, “We don’t want any certificate from Dave. I can’t be insulted like this… Please stop naming somebody who is not here. Lets not cast aspersions on someone.” “The documents being referred to by Maharashtra government are self serving in nature. An RTI from the Police Commissioner states that the judge’s security was withdrawn. If it’s being claimed that the family didn’t want an enquiry, why the family was not called to the hospital when the judge died?,” Dave contended. “As of now, it is a natural death. Let us not cast aspersions. Lets not prejudge,” justice Chandrachud, one of the three judges in the Bench, told Dave.
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The Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra asked for all documents related to the Loya case and said it would look into it “with utmost seriousness” and “in a fair way”. “Let us have full documents, let our conscience not feel that we didn’t look at some documents. We can’t rest out views on the newspaper reports,” said Chandrachud, who requested the lawyers to assist them. “We are looking into the death of a judge. Please assist us in a spirit of objectivity in which a lawyer does, so that the truth can be found out. Please don’t pass comments on persons appearing in the matter. A person appears as per his conscience… Each of us don’t hold anyone’s conscience. Let’s not allow this matter to be dragged into who appeared for whom…”
The CJI criticised senior counsel Indira Jaising, who kept interfering in the court proceedings and vehemently objected to the Maharashtra government’s request not to share documents relating to the case with anybody other than lawyers involved. The CJI asked her to retract and apologise, which she did.
The Maharashtra government told the Bench that a discreet inquiry was conducted to probe the death of Loya and four judicial officials who were with him all through assured them there was no foul play involved and Loya died of cardiac arrest. The next hearing in the case will be held on February 2.
Two petitions have called for an investigation into the death of 48-year-old judge Loya after his family raised questions and alleged that there were attempts to bribe him. The judge’s son Anuj Loya, however, said there was no suspicion anymore and his father’s death was being used for politics.
The Loya case was first assigned to a bench that the four rebel judges believed was not suitable. On January 16, the bench headed by justice Arun Misra heard the matter directing the state government to share details of the police investigation into the Loya’s death with the petitioners and also passed an order for listing of the case before an “appropriate bench”.