J. Tahilramani’s case echoes choice made by Madras HC Chief Justice nearly 40 years ago

Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani. File

Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani. File   | Photo Credit: G. Moorthy

‘The life of a judge is that of a hermit and he must inculcate a spirit of self-sacrifice’

Madras High Court Chief Justice V. K. Tahilramani’s decision to resign in the face of a Supreme Court Collegium recommendation made “in the interest of better administration of justice” to transfer her to Meghalaya High Court finds a distant echo with the choice made by another Madras High Court Chief Justice, nearly 40 years ago, to “sacrifice” his career and bow out with a sense of self-respect.

On January 19, 1981, the President issued an order to transfer then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, M. M. Ismail, to the Kerala High Court.

‘First Judges Case’

Lawyers, including advocate Lily Thomas, rushed to court against the transfer. The petitions, among several others, came up before a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court for hearing. The case, famously known as the Judges Transfer Case or the First Judges Case, became a decisive step towards the creation of the Collegium system.

However, Justice Ismail decided to remain aloof from the legal hullabaloo. Though he was made a respondent in Ms. Thomas’s petition, Justice Ismail filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court conveying his decision not to question the legality or validity of the transfer. He said he did not want anyone to “litigate for or against him”. He did not claim any relief from the seven-judge Bench. He subsequently resigned from office. His resignation left the Constitution Bench with no choice but to drop the part of the case concerning his transfer.

But Justice Ismail did not go unnoticed by the judges on the Supreme Court Bench.

“I cannot help commending the conduct of Justice Ismail, who actually resigned and chose to quit his office instead of pursuing the matter further in the larger interest of the purity of administration of justice. The life of a judge is that of a hermit and he must inculcate a spirit of self-sacrifice and should take his profession in this holy spirit,” Justice S.M. Fazal Ali wrote in his judgment in the Judges Transfer Case.

Justice R.S. Pathak reproduced extracts from the affidavit filed by Justice Ismail, saying he had no interest in people advocating his case.

‘Inner strength’

“As soon as I was informed of the notification of the President of India under Article 222 (1) of the Constitution of India, transferring me as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala, I decided not to proceed to Kerala to take charge as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala; not to challenge the legality or the validity of the order of the President so transferring me in any Court of Law; and (3) to proceed on leave preparatory to premature retirement by resigning my office… I have nothing to submit to this Honourable Court in this writ petition and I do not want anyone to litigate for or against me... In these circumstances, I have nothing to represent with reference to the questions of law raised in the petition and I do not want anything about me to be argued or debated,” he wrote to the Supreme Court Bench.

Justice Pathak concluded his separate opinion with the words, “it is the inner strength of judges alone that can save the judiciary. The life of a judge does not really call for great acts of self-sacrifice; but it does insist upon small acts of self-denial almost every day”.

‘Poise and bearing’

Justice D.A. Desai, on the Bench, expressed the anguish Justice Ismail may have felt. “What a deep resentment and consequential character assassination a High Court Judge suffers by such selective transfer can be gauged from the reaction of Shri M. M. Ismail. former Chief Justice of Madras High Court, who resigned only because, according to him, the transfer was by way of punishment and casts stigma on his judicial poise and bearing,” Justice Desai wrote.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 4:02:45 PM |

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