Probe panel can't add or substitute any material for framing of charges: counsel

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on two petitions filed by Sikkim High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran that questioned a three-member probe panel's jurisdiction in conducting an investigation before framing charges. He also raised the question of bias against a member of the panel, advocate P.P. Rao.

On April 29, acting on the petitions, the court stayed the removal proceedings before the committee, headed by Supreme Court judge Aftab Alam.

On Wednesday, a vacation Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and C.K. Prasad, after a two-week hearing, reserved its verdict at the conclusion of arguments.

Senior counsel Basava Prabhu Patil, appearing for Justice Dinakaran, reiterated that framing of charges by the committee which did not form the basis of the motion was ultra vires the Judges (Inquiry) Act.

Rejecting the contention that the committee was empowered to conduct a preliminary probe before the framing of charges, he said having regard to the scheme of the Act, definite charges could be framed only on the basis of the charges contained in the motion.

He pointed out that the committee could not add or substitute any material for the framing of charges as it had no jurisdiction to do so.

In the present case, it was admitted that enquiry was conducted prior to the framing of charges by taking evidence.

At this stage, Justice Singhvi gave an example. He said a judicial order could be produced through forged documents which the judge concerned might not be aware of. This judicial order could then form the basis of the motion for the removal of the judge.

Justice Singhvi told Mr. Patil, “If your contention that the committee can't conduct any probe before the framing of charges is to be accepted, then it will be a catastrophe for the judge. The committee with its judicial mind can call for the original records and find out that the order is forged. The role of the committee is not only to find out whether the judge is guilty of misbehaviour or not but also to protect him and safeguard his interest. It could not be envisaged that the committee will act as a post office and frame charges on the basis of the motion.”

Mr. Patil, however, submitted that in this case in the process of weeding out materials, the committee had brought in new materials and enlarged the scope of the proceedings.

On the assistance rendered by senior counsel for the committee U.U. Lalit in conducting the investigation before framing charges against Justice Dinakaran, counsel said counsel's role would arise only after the framing of charges and not before.

He said Mr. Lalit could not be the investigator and a prosecutor in these proceedings.

He said: “it is the satisfaction of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha that leads to the creation of the committee, which cannot enlarge the scope of the inquiry as the right to collect the materials for the motion vests with the Chairman.”

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