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Judging by the reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in the disproportionate assets case today, justice has been “seen to be done”. Apart from the ramificiations the verdict has on the political scenario in Tamil Nadu, it is also significant for more than just that.
Diverting from the norm, the Bench of Justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy overturned the Karnataka High Court’s acquittal and restored the judgment of the trial court in toto. This, despite the fact that many an apex court decision, including the one in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Chet Ram & Ors., has laid down that the court’s power under Article 136 of the Constitution ought to be exercised with care and restraint in setting aside a judgement of acquittal by a high court.
That, in itself, speaks volumes of the competence of the trial judge in question, John Michael D’Cunha.
The case against Jayalalithaa and her aides had its genesis in 1996, when Subramanian Swamy lodged an FIR before a Principal Sessions judge in Chennai. Since then, the case had halted to a snail’s pace, with the defence counsel dragging their feet for over a decade. It was not until 2013 that the case actually began to get somewhere.
Coincidentally, that was the year in which John Michael D’Cunha, now an additional judge of the Karnataka High Court, was appointed as the Special Judge to dispose of the case.
Appointed in October 2013, John Michael D’Cunha J took little time to assert that he was a no-nonsense judge. In March 2014, he made his intentions clear by imposing a fine of Rs. 60,000 on Special Public Prosecutor in the case, G Bhavani Singh. The reason? For “repeatedly seeking adjournments since January 27, 2014, without justifiable cause.”
It took him less than a year to deliver his 1136-page verdict in the case, holding Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and others guilty of holding disproportionate assets upwards of Rs. 66 crore.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In fact, this is not the first time John Michael D’Cunha J has been involved in a high-profile case. In 2004, when he was a Judicial Magistrate First Class at Hubli, Karnataka, he issued a non-bailable warrant against then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharti in connection with her role in the 1994 Hubli riots.
A graduate of SDM Law College, Justice John Michael D’Cunha started his law practice in 1985, before moving to Bangalore to practice in the Karnataka High Court. He started his career at the Bench in 2002, and worked in courts in the districts of Bellary, Dharwad, Hubli and Bangalore. He was appointed as an additional judge of the High Court in November last year.
Image taken from here.