HC judge takes swipe at ‘most superior court’: Progeny of judges bring litigants, drop names

INDEPENDENCE OF the judiciary is realized only when individual judges remain independent, according to Justice P Krishna Bhat, who dismissed office as Judge of Karnataka High Court on Friday.

“To my mind, threat to ‘Independence of Judiciary’ is a myth. Independence of the judiciary is realized by an individual judge remaining independent,” he said at a farewell function held on Thursday.

“If the progeny of the judges of the most superior court in the country call on the judicial officers at their residence with eager litigants in tow with an attempt to pass slips and thereafter, drop the name of their forebear with hints of protection, then there is a serious problem to the independence of the judiciary,” he added.

Justice Bhat was appointed a judge of the High Court in May 2020 and had a two-year tenure. Incidentally, his appointment was at the center of a bitter tussle between the Supreme Court collegium and the government.

While his name was first recommended on August 23, 2016 and was reiterated twice – on April 6, 2017 and October 15, 2019. In a move that raised questions of propriety and process, the government had written to then Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court Justice Dinesh Maheshwari directly to initiate an inquiry on a complaint against Justice Bhat.

Justice Bhat was appointed a District and Sessions judge in 1998 and served as the Registrar General of Karnataka High Court and Director of Karnataka Judicial Academy.

In his farewell speech, Justice Bhat underlined that threats to the independence of the judiciary are from within.

“There is a vague and lingering view that there is less threat to the independence of the judiciary written or oral from without than within; in the manner petitions, complaints, calculated branding is handled internally,” he said.

On influences on the subordinate judiciary from the higher judiciary, Justice Bhat said it is worrisome that “at crucial stages in their career like period of probation, promotion, etc. judicial officers pass certain orders because they were ‘told’ so”.

“Every time when judges take aeons to pronounce on a recusal application, whispers start going around about the intention and integrity of the Judge. Similarly, if judges are found frolicking in destination holiday centers in questionable companies, questions are bound to arise as to his independence as a judge,” he said.

“If such an allegation is established or such a perception prevails, Judge is not independent and credibility is permanently dented,” he said.

Referring to some concerns in legal circles on addressing the district courts as “lower or subordinate judiciary”, Justice Bhat said, “These measures are bouts of indulgent condescension to purge one’s vague feeling of guilt.”

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