Embarrassment to Karnataka Chief Justice, relief to litigants

In what could be described as a major embarrassment to its Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran, the Karnataka High Court has struck down three administrative circulars issued by him.

All the circulars were declared ultra vires and quashed by a Division Bench comprising Justice N. Kumar and Justice B. Sreenivase Gowda.

The quashing of the December 29, 2008 circular on the territorial jurisdiction of the High Court would give relief to thousands of litigant public. They can now file cases before either the Principal Bench of the High Court in Bangalore or the Circuit Benches at Dharwad and Gulbarga.

The Bench passed the order on a review petition by Balachandra V. Dixit on the appointment of an administrator for the Mahabaleshwara temple at Gokarna.

Mr. Dixit had filed the petition before the High Court and the Chief Justice allotted the case, as per the roster, to the Bench dealing with similar matters. The Bench, however, ruled that the case should have been posted not before it but before the one that had passed the order.

When it was pointed out that the case had been allotted to it following a circular issued by the Chief Justice on December 29, 2008, the Bench struck down the circular as ultra vires and illegal. It said the Chief Justice, through the circular, could not mark the territorial jurisdiction of the High Court or bifurcate it among the benches.

The circular said that people from the districts in which the two benches had been constituted should file their cases there itself and not before the Principal Bench.

In another judgment, the same Bench held that the Chief Justice could not hear cases of court staff, including employees of the High Court.

Till now, the Chief Justice along with another judge on a Bench used to post before himself all cases filed by employees of the High Court and subordinate courts, and judicial officers. He had also issued a circular on December 29, 2008 in this regard.

The Bench held that if the Chief Justice passed an administrative order on an employee of the High Court, district or other courts, he could not hear the matter if this order was challenged judicially.

It was dealing with a petition by a peon of the District and Sessions Judge of Bijapur.

The Chief Justice had issued a notification that all cases filed by employees of the High Court, district courts and other courts must be heard by the first court which is headed by the Chief Justice. The Bench quashed this order, saying that administrative power exercised by the Chief Justice could be subjected to judicial scrutiny by the High Court, like any other action of any authority.

When the Chief Justice passed an administrative order, there was an obligation to follow the principles of natural justice. In this case, the circular by the Chief Justice said all petitions by employees of the High Court and subordinate courts, and judicial officers should be posted before court hall 1.

Since the Chief Justice was a party directly or indirectly passing the administrative order, he could not decide on its correctness. “The rule is no man ought to be a judge in his own case.”

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