Interaction with litigant on social media can be grounds for judge’s withdrawal: Bombay HC

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Mumbai | Published: July 19, 2018 7:39:09 PM

The Bombay High Court has upheld the Pune district court's decision to transfer a case from the roster of a judge after one of the lawyers in the matter commented on his Facebook post.

Bombay High Court, social media, Facebook post, Pune district, social media postsThe Facebook post had nothing to do with the case, but deeming such interaction inappropriate, Bahalkar approached District Judge S M Modak and sought to recuse himself. (PTI)

The Bombay High Court has upheld the Pune district court’s decision to transfer a case from the roster of a judge after one of the lawyers in the matter commented on his Facebook post. Further, under certain circumstances, a lawyer leaving a comment on a judge’s social media post can be seen as “professional misconduct”, the high court said. In an order earlier this month, a division bench of Justices Shantanu Kemkar and Nitin Sambre said a judge recusing (withdrawing) himself from a case in such circumstances would be justified.

The issue arose during the hearing of a property dispute before Additional District Judge S B Bahalkar. Sonia Prabhu, one of the petitioners who herself is a lawyer and who represented her side of the family in the case, had commented on a Facebook post of Judge Bahalkar.

The Facebook post had nothing to do with the case, but deeming such interaction inappropriate, Bahalkar approached District Judge S M Modak and sought to recuse himself. Modak ordered that the case be transferred to another judge. Prabhu moved the high court, questioning the necessity to transfer the case. The high court held that the district judge had taken the right decision.

“The conduct of the lawyer in responding to the Facebook post of a Judge who was hearing their appeals…could be viewed as professional misconduct…,” it said in the July 3 order. The petitioner had also sought that the high court lay down guidelines as to whether a judge should withdraw from a case only because a lawyer or a party involved in the matter had an interaction with him or her on social media. To this, the high court said, “A judge may recuse himself or herself on the basis of his or her personal or private interest in the subject-matter of the litigation, his or her intimacy with the parties…or his or her own conscience about the matter. “Such decision whether to recuse or not is purely within the domain of the said Judge,” the HC said, without laying down any rules.

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