Madras High Court judge refuses to recuse himself from hearing suo motu revision against Minister Ponmudy’s acquittal 

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh says a spate of suo motu revision petitions taken up against sitting and former Ministers were being wrongly perceived in some quarters as witch hunt by an individual judge 

Updated - September 14, 2023 07:55 pm IST

Published - September 14, 2023 04:25 pm IST - CHENNAI

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“It is a mystery as to why the mighty State is shooting a plea of bias at this court from the shoulders of the accused,” Justice N. Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court wrote on Thursday, September 14, 2023 while refusing to recuse himself from hearing a suo motu revision petition taken up against the acquittal of Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudy and his wife P. Visalatchi from a disproportionate assets case on June 28, 2023.

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The judge rejected the plea made by Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC), as well as the Minister and his wife urging him to let the suo motu revision be heard by some other judge of the High Court since he had already made certain strong remarks. He said that the mere expression of a strong view at the stage of ordering notices on the suo motu revision would not be enough to raise a plea of bias.

“The test of a reasonable likelihood of bias must be assessed in the light of the oath of office taken by the judge to administer justice without fear or favour, affection or ill will and his ability to carry out the oath by reason of his training and experience, whereby he is in a position to disabuse his mind of any irrelevant personal belief or predisposition or unwarranted apprehensions,” Justice Venkatesh wrote.

He quoted the England and Wales Court of Appeal to have said in a 2007 judgment that “a fair-minded observer would know that judges are trained to have an open mind and that judges frequently do change their minds during the course of any hearing. The business of this court would not be done if we were to recuse ourselves for entering the court having formed a preliminary view of the prospects of success of the appeal before us.”

Similarly, he recalled a 2016 Supreme Court judgment wherein it was said: “A judge may recuse at his own from a case entrusted to him by the Chief Justice. That would be a matter of his own choosing. But recusal at the asking of a litigating party, unless justified, must never to be acceded to. For that would give the impression of the judge having been scared out of the case just by the force of the objection.”

Justice Venkatesh further said that a spate of suo motu revision petitions taken up by him in the last few weeks against the acquittal/discharge of some sitting and former Ministers were being wrongly perceived in some quarters as a witch hunt spearheaded by an individual judge. He said the suo motu revisions had been taken up not by one judge, but by the High Court as an institution to ensure that the streams of criminal justice were not subverted and remained pure and unsullied.

“The orders of the High Court resonate the voice of not any individual judge but that of one institution. In other words, decision-making by the High Court is an institutional action and not the action of any particular judge. This is in keeping with the role of the High Court as a constitutional court vested with the power of judicial and administrative superintendence over the courts subordinate to it,” he observed.

In so far as Mr. Ponmudy’s case was concerned, the judge wondered why the DVAC or the accused were bothered about him not having put the High Court administration on notice before criticising it for having transferred the disproportionate assets case from Villupuram to Vellore district. “It is rather strange that DVAC or the accused should be holding a candle for the administrative side of the High Court, which is perfectly capable of defending itself if the need so arises,” he said.

Finally, the judge ordered listing of the suo motu revision against Mr. Ponmudy and his wife on October 9 after observing that the next roster for High Court judges would come into effect by the first week of October.

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