J. Venkatesan

Supreme Court allows appeal

“High Courts cannot be converted into Station Houses”

Such letters must be placed before the Chief Justice

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that High Court judges cannot treat anonymous letters and petitions listing allegations against individuals or institutions as public interest litigation and order suo motu investigation.

A Bench of Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice B. Sudershan Reddy said, “Setting criminal law in motion is fraught with serious consequences, which cannot lightly be undertaken by the High Court even in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. The High Court cannot direct investigation by constituting a special investigation team on the strength of anonymous petitions. The High Courts cannot be converted into Station Houses.”

Writing the judgment, Mr. Justice Reddy said, “No judicial order can ever be passed by any court without providing a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the person likely to be affected by such order and particularly when such order results in drastic consequences of affecting one’s own reputation.”

The Bench said, “The individual who moves the court for judicial redress in cases of PIL must be acting bona fide with a view to vindicating the cause of justice and not for any personal gain or private profit or of the political motivation or other oblique consideration. The [High] Court should not allow itself to be activised at the instance of such person and must reject his application at the threshold, whether it be in the form of a letter addressed to the court or even in the form of a regular petition filed in court.”

In the instant case, Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor in Thrissur district, Kerala, was aggrieved over the suo motu probe ordered by a single judge of the Kerala High Court in respect of certain allegations contained in an anonymous letter addressed to him. The present appeal by the Centre is directed against that judgment.

Allowing the appeal, the Bench said: “Institution’s own reputation is a priceless treasure. History teaches us that the independence of the judiciary is jeopardised when courts become embroiled in the passions of the day and assume primary responsibility to resolve the issues which are otherwise not entrusted to it by adopting procedures which are otherwise not known.”

The Bench said “there is heavy duty cast upon the constitutional courts to protect themselves from the onslaught unleashed by unscrupulous litigants masquerading as public interest litigants. The individual judges ought not to entertain communications and letters personally addressed to them and initiate action on the judicial side. The letters are required to be placed before the Chief Justice for his consideration. Each judge cannot decide for himself as to what communication should be entertained for setting the law in motion be it in PIL, or in any jurisdiction.”

In this case, the single judge of the High Court ought not to have entertained the anonymous petition, contents of which remain unverified and made it the basis for setting the law in motion against the appellant as he was not entrusted with the judicial duty of disposing of PIL matters.