Previous verdict no ground for judge's recusal: SC

Allowing the recusal of a judge from a larger bench just because he previously rendered judgement on a subject would encourage forum shopping and destroy the independent judicial system, the Supreme Court has said.

The top court rejected a plea for recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from a five-judge bench set up to reconsider land acquisition cases. Farmers Associations asked Justice Mishra to opt out of the bench because he had delivered a judgement in February 2018.

“A judgment is not a halting-place, it is stepping stone. It is not like a holy book which cannot be amended or corrected,” Justice Arun Mishra said in a 56-page judgement, released on Thursday.

Other judges of the bench – Justice Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M R Shah and R Ravindra Bhat concurred with his reasoning and conclusion, saying no legal principle or norm barred his participation in the present bench to hear the reference.

Giving a detailed reason, Justice Mishra said rendering a decision on any issue of law cannot be said to be ground for recusal of a judge, otherwise, no judge can hear a review, curative petition, or a reference made to the larger bench.

Judges have to deal with the cases every day in which similar or somewhat different questions are involved concerning the same provision. “We have to correct the decision, apply the law, independently interpret the provisions as per the fact situation of the case”, he said, adding there are no dearth of lawyers who have compelled this court to change its views.

Justice Mishra also pointed out there are umpteen occasions when judges have overruled their own view. 

“It (previous judgement) cannot constitute bias, or a pre-disposition, nor can it seem to raise a reasonable apprehension of bias,” he wrote.

“The plea cannot be termed anything other than bench hunting... and would sound a death knell to the independent system of justice delivery where litigants would dictate participation of judges of their liking,” Justice Mishra said, adding it may lead to interference with the power of the Chief Justice to constitute benches.

Giving in to such a request would tantamount to cowardice and give room to big and mighty to destroy the very judicial system, he added.

“Legal pre-disposition is the outcome of a judicial process of interpretation, and the entire judicial system exists for refining the same. No litigant can choose, who should be on the bench,” he said.

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