Rafale: Can a “stolen” document be overlooked if it is relevant? Supreme Court Judges and AG KK Venugopal in heated debate

Rafale: Can a “stolen” document be overlooked if it is relevant? Supreme Court Judges and AG KK Venugopal in heated debate

Aditya AK

The hearing of the Rafale review petitions in the Supreme Court today brought an interesting exchange between the judges on the Bench and Attorney General KK Venugopal to the fore.

It all started when Prashant Bhushan, one of the review petitioners, submitted an eight-page note to the Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph.

At this point, AG KK Venugopal took exception to the same, stating that the contents of the note were “stolen” from the Defence Ministry, and that a probe into that was underway.

Referring to news items published in The Hindu and other publications, Venugopal stated that disclosure of the contents of the Defence Ministry note amounted to an offence under the Official Secrets Act.

Specific reference was made to an article in The Hindu titled ‘No bank guarantees meant a more expensive new Rafale deal’, published today.

“The strategy is to put out as a news item the day before the hearing so as to influence the hearing. Today also, [The] Hindu has published something. This by itself is contempt of court”, submitted Venugopal.

The review petition and perjury plea were liable to be dismissed on this ground alone, Venugopal further said.

Venugopal continued this line of argument when the Bench reconvened after lunch.

At one point, Justice Joseph queried,

“Can relevant evidence be cut out saying it is illegally obtained? Can’t stolen evidence be looked into if it is relevant?”

An intense exchange between the AG and the judge ensued on whether or not illegally obtained evidence can be relied upon. Venugopal said,

“They have come with a document which is stolen. Your Lordships might have your view on it (admissibility of such a document) but I have a different view.”

The AG went on to ask whether the Supreme Court will give directions to go to war or negotiate for peace. He also sought to find out where the petitioners got the document from.

Then, CJI Ranjan Gogoi weighed in, asking,

“An accused is having difficulty in proving his innocence. He steals a document and shows it to judge. The document clearly shows he is innocent. Should the judge not admit the document?”

Venugopal responded,

“He has to disclose the source of the document. The submission is, once the document is a subject matter of criminality, in my opinion, the court should not look into it.”

CJI Gogoi shot back,

“If your submission is that petitioners have not come bona fide, then that’s different. But can you say that the document is completely not touchable?”

Venugopal went on to submit that the matter has been given a political colour. He called for the Court to exercise restraint in passing orders.

“In this limited area concerning the defence of frontiers, would it not be appropriate for Your Lordships to exercise restraint? This is a matter by which opposition is trying to destabilise the government.”

The hearing in the case will resume on March 14.

Read the order below. 

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news