Judge need not recuse from re-examining own judgment: SC

Justice Mishra was pronouncing his verdict on the question of his own recusal from the Bench.

October 24, 2019 04:39 pm | Updated 06:58 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Justice Arun Mishra.

Justice Arun Mishra.

A judge need not recuse himself from a larger Bench scrutinising the correctness of his own past judgment, a Constitution Bench held in a verdict published on Thursday.

“No litigant can choose who should be on the Bench. He cannot say that a judge who might have decided a case on a particular issue, which may go against his interest, should not hear his case as part of a larger Bench,” Justice Arun Mishra wrote in the leading judgment for the Bench.

“Rendering a decision on any issue of law cannot be a ground for recusal of a judge; otherwise, no judge can hear a review, curative petition or a reference made to the larger Bench,” the order said.

Justice Mishra was pronouncing his verdict on the question of his own recusal from the Bench. The other four judges on the Bench agreed with him.

Certain parties had asked him to withdraw as lead judge of the Bench examining the correct interpretation of Section 24 of the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. A judgment delivered by him on February 8 last year is the bone of contention before theBench. The parties objected to him leading a Bench examining the correctness of his own judgment. They said he would be biased and predisposed in favour of his February 8 judgment.

Justice Mishra reasoned that acquiescing to the wishes of parties to recuse would sound the death knell for judicial independence. It would lead to forum shopping. Pronouncing judgments was the duty of a judge. A judge cannot be suspected of bias for performing his sworn duty. “Previous judgment cannot constitute bias or predisposition or raise reasonable apprehension of bias.”

Justice Mishra said had he recused, it would have been a “grave blunder”. “The ultimate test is for the judge to decide and to find out whether he will be able to deliver impartial justice to a cause with integrity and with whatever intellectual capacity at his command... In case the answer is that he will be able to deliver justice to the cause, he cannot and must not recuse from any case as the duty assigned by the Constitution has to be performed as per the oath and there lies the larger public interest. He cannot shake the faith that the common man reposes in the judiciary as it is the last hope for them.”

Even the "embarassment" of hearing lengthy arguments for his own recusal should not deter a judge who was firm in his convictions. Also, there have been “umpteen occasions when judges have overruled their own view”. A judgment was not cast in stone. Judges have been known to correct their past errors. “A judgment is not a halting place, it is a stepping stone. It is not like a holy book which cannot be amended or corrected,” he said.

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