New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday expressed anguish over an emerging "trend of targeting judges" and said this "must stop", while indicating that it may impose an exemplary cost of Rs 25 lakh on an organisation for raking up the issue of "conflict of interest" against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra.
A charitable organisation 'Bhartiya Matdata Sangathan', in its plea, has alleged that in disregard of constitutional morality, a relative of the CJI, who is an MP from Odisha, was practising as a senior lawyer in the courts and tribunals in New Delhi.
A bench, comprising the CJI and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, had on July 9 reserved its verdict on a PIL filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay seeking to ban legislators from practising as advocates.
Taking strong note of the interim plea of the organisation in the PIL on which the verdict has already been reserved, the bench said "this has become a trend of targeting judges. This trend must stop. If you have to make the allegation, please make them at the outset so that we can deal with them."
Justice Chandrachud did not agree to the submissions of some lawyers that the organisation be asked to pay a fine of Rs 50,000, Rs one Lakh and Rs five lakh for making such scandalous allegations and said, "I think that Rs five lakh is not the upper limit. I was thinking of (imposing) Rs 25 lakh".
Deprecating the practice of targeting judges, the bench said "ultimately, it (allegation) affects the institution".
The bench, which passed over the matter thrice during the day, refused to accept the unconditional apology tendered by the General Secretary of the organisation and told him that Attorney General K K Venugopal was suggesting that a case of contempt was being made out.
"Are you the General Secretary of the organisation? Did you pass the resolution before filing this? Do you take the responsibility of filing this," the bench asked.
It also asked the lawyer, who is the office bearer of the organisation, whether he had taken any legal advice before filing the application.
"There are judgments which say that the advocate-on-records (AoRs) are responsible for filing such an applications," the bench said.
Venugopal said that the AoRs are responsible for all the filings in the case.
Senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, appearing for one of the parties, however, said that it appeared that the AoR was not aware of such filing in the case and suggested imposing of a fine of Rs 50,000 on the organisation.
Venugopal then referred to the "great tragedy" in Kerala and said the cost, to be imposed in the case, should be deposited in the Kerala relief fund, besides suggesting that a case of contempt was made out in the present case.
The CJI then informed that the apex court judges would also be contributing in the Kerala relief fund.
The bench, at the end of the hearing, asked the organisation to file the names of its office bearers on August 27 and consult the Attorney General in the meantime on the issue as to how much it can pay as cost for filing such an application.
The bench said it was hearing a PIL and there was no need of naming a lawyer just because he had once appeared in a matter against the organisation or its lawyers.
It agreed to the submission of the Venugopal that such kind of allegations are "extraordinary" and "unheard of" and needed to be dealt with sternly.
"Let the matter be listed on Monday (August 27). The organisation shall disclose the names of its members," the bench said.
The apex court had reserved its verdict on the PIL which had alleged that a lawmaker drew a salary from the public exchequer and a salaried employee was debarred by the Bar Council of India from practising in the courts of law.
The petition has said that while a public servant cannot practice as an advocate, legislators are practising in various courts which violated Article 14 of the Constitution.
The plea said the issue is a matter of concern to both the judiciary and the legislature as most of the lawmaker-advocates were involved in active practice of law, despite receiving salaries and other perquisites drawn on the public exchequer.
The petition also pointed out that the MPs have the power of voting on the impeachment of judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts.