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Judicial and Administrative Overreach: Now, three-judge Bench of Patna HC quashes Justice Rakesh Kumar order

Judicial and Administrative Overreach: Now, three-judge Bench of Patna HC quashes Justice Rakesh Kumar order

Aditya AK

Days after an 11-Judge Bench of the Patna High Court suspended the operation of an order passed by Justice Rakesh Kumar highlighting corruption in the judicial system, a Full Bench has now quashed the same.

The order passed by Justice Rakesh Kumar on August 28 recorded that corruption in the High Court was an “open secret”. He had even passed a direction to the Central Bureau of Investigation to conduct an inquiry into an episode relating to corruption in the premises of the Patna Civil Court. The controversial order also alluded to four instances where allegations of corruption against judicial officers were disposed of by the High Court without any major consequence.

After the 11-Judge Bench came down heavily on Justice Kumar’s order, Chief Justice of the Patna High Court Amreshwar Pratap Sahi decided to constitute a Three-Judge Bench to deal with the issue.

The Bench of Chief Justice Sahi and Justices Anjana Mishra and Anil Kumar Upadhyay has now put the matter to rest.

At the outset, the Bench noted that all the parties involved in the matters have unanimously submitted that the August 28 order was unsustainable. It is also noted that one of the affected parties in the case filed a Letters Patent Appeal against Justice Kumar’s order.

Further justifying its power to constitute the present Bench, the Court’s judgment states,

“…the powers conferred under the Letters Patent of the Patna High Court Rules amply authorizes in law the hearing of this matter to correct an error arising out of an order that suffered from not only patent lack of authority but also patent lack of jurisdiction. We are further now justified and fortified in proceeding with the matter upon the filing of an appeal by one of the directly affected parties in the case in which the learned Single Judge has issued the sweeping directions.”

The Bench ruled that Justice Kumar did not have the jurisdiction to exhume a matter that was decided in March and pass directions the way he did.

“The first principle that one acquires through knowledge and then through experience, and is elementary for every Judge is to know and determine is his own jurisdiction…a Judge cannot assume an authority over and above which the High Court is not empowered with under the Constitution.”

Apart from a lack of judicial authority to pass such an order, the Three-Judge Bench also notes that there was a “complete lack of administrative authority on the part of the. judge.

“…we find that apart from the lack of authority to adjudicate or pronounce was also coupled with the complete lack of administrative authority in the Judge to have summoned the file orally, not for mere perusal, which usually Judges do, but for clearly intending to proceed to deliver a judicial order which could not have been done in the absence of any application pending, any request made by any aggrieved party to the litigation or by any administrative direction of the Chief Justice. 

Thus, this was a case not only of jurisdictional incompetence but also of complete lack of administrative authority in summoning the file and issuing directions far beyond the competence of the learned Judge.”

It is further noted that the Single Judge order does not refer to any provision of law in the Criminal Procedure Code or the High Court Rules under which he could assume this authority. Further, the order nowhere speaks of any notice having been issued or any party having been heard. In this light, the judgment passed today states,

“This, therefore, is a clear case of violation of principles of natural justice engrained in Article 14 of the Constitution of India which is yet another reason for us to interfere with the order.”

Justice Rakesh Kumar of the Patna High Court
Justice Rakesh Kumar of the Patna High Court

Before holding that the August 28 order deserves to be quashed, the Three-Judge Bench noted,

“We are aware that this sparseness of such examples hardly come up as a controversy, but the passing of such an order has the inherent danger of creating uncertainty and a feeling that all things can be set right on the exercise of authority by a Judge even though he may not have a legal power to do so. We may only observe that there are regrettable limits and compulsory restraints that control jurisdiction. The jurisdiction to summon a file and then to pass strictures, comments and issuing administrative directions were all totally outside the scope of the authority of the learned Judge as indicated in the impugned order…”

In an ostensible bid to prevent such administrative oversight from recurring, the Bench also directed the Registrar General of the Patna High Court to circulate its judgment amongst all judges and court masters of every court.

“…circulate this judgement amongst all Judges as well as to all concerned, particularly court masters of every court, who will be under a bounden duty to inform the Hon’ble Judge of the manner in which a file can be summoned for adjudication, excluding files being summoned for perusal, only under the authority of the roster as assigned by the Chief Justice and not otherwise.” 

The August 28 order was passed by Justice Rakesh Kumar in an anticipatory bail plea filed by former IAS officer KP Ramaiah in connection with the multi-crore Bihar Mahadalit Vikas Mission fund scam.

During the proceedings, the Court took on record a news report published in Dainik Jagran. As per the news report, on the date that Ramaiah surrendered before the trial court, the regular Special Judge (Vigilance) went on leave. Thereafter, Ramaiah surrendered and was granted bail by the judge on the same date. 

Looking at the events, Justice Ramesh Kumar opined that the manner in which Ramaiah was granted bail required a deeper probe, as it raised questions of the judiciary. He thus directed that an inquiry be conducted by the District Judge, Patna into the circumstances surrounding the grant of bail.

Subsequently, an 11-Judge Bench comprising the Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Justices Vikash Jain, Chakradhari Sharan Singh, Prabhat Kumar Jha, Anjana Mishra, Ashutosh Kumar, Birendra Kumar, Vinod Kumar Sinha, Anil Kumar Upadhyay, Rajeev Ranjan Prasad and Sanjay Kumar was constituted suo motu after taking judicial notice of the print and social media publications of the content of the order passed by Justice Rakesh Kumar. It had then suspended that order.

Read the judgment: