Chief Justice of India ‘recuses’ himself after Andhra Pradesh refuses mediation
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Polity & Governance
6th Aug, 2021
In the ongoing dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Telangana over the Krishna water, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana recused himself after the Andhra Pradesh Government refused to accept its suggestion to go for mediation.
We are not forcing you, if you don’t want mediation. Place it before another Bench…They don’t want mediation, and I don’t want to hear the matter.
-NV Ramana, CJI
- The Andhra government, in its petition, has complained that Telangana was refusing to follow decisions taken in the apex council constituted under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014, and directions of the Krishna River Management Board and those of the Centre.
- CJI Ramana, who was born in the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh, clarified that he would not adjudicate upon the legal issues involved in the matter but if the states were forthcoming on settling the dispute through talks, the bench could assist the mediation process.
“I belong to both the states. I don’t want to hear this matter legally. But if the matter can be settled in mediation, please do that. Otherwise, we will have to send this matter to another bench.”
What is the concept of recusal?
- Judicial recusal is a basic precept that no one should be a Judge in his or her own case.
- Simply put, it is “removal of oneself as a Judge in a particular matter, especially because of a conflict of interest”.
- The decision to recuse rests on the ‘conscience’ and ‘discretion’ of the judge to disclose any potential conflict of interest.
What can bring the decision to recuse?
- The decision to recuse generally comes from the judge herself.
- However, in some circumstances, lawyers or even parties involved in the case bring it up before the judge.
- In case, if a judge recuses, the case is listed before the Chief Justice for allotment to a fresh Bench.
- It is to be noted that there are no formal rules governing recusals.
Supreme Court have dealt with the issue in its several judgments
In Ranjit Thakur v Union of India (1987), SC held that the ‘test of the likelihood of bias’ is the ‘reasonableness’ of the apprehension in the mind of the party (Judge).
- “The proper approach for the Judge is not to look at his own mind and ask himself, however honestly, “Am I biased?” but to look at the mind of the party before him,” the court had held.
As per the 1999 charter ‘Restatement of Values in Judicial Life’, a code of ethics adopted by the SC, “A Judge shall not hear and decide a matter in a company in which he holds shares… unless he has disclosed his interest and no objection to his hearing and deciding the matter is raised.”
What does a judge recuse himself from a case?
- Conflict of interest: A judge can withdraw from hearing a case to prevent creating a perception that he/she carried a bias while deciding the case. The conflict of interest can occur before the judges in many ways-
- holding shares in a company that is a litigant to having a prior
- personal association with a party involved in the case
The practice of ‘judicial recuse’ stems from the cardinal principle of due process of law that nobody can be a judge in her own case.
- Appeal against own judgment: Another instance for recusal is when an appeal is filed in the Supreme Court against a judgment of a High Court that may have been delivered by the SC judge when he/she was in the HC.
- In India there is no statute laying down the minimum procedure which Judges must follow in order to ensure the impartiality.
- Duty to act fairly and impartially is ingrained in Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. Indian courts have nourished these values with reference to administrative decision-making and emphasised on the test of “real likelihood of bias”.
Can a judge refuse to recuse?
- Once a request is made for recusal, the decision to recuse or not rests with the judge.
- While there are some instances where judges have recused even if they do not see a conflict but only because such an apprehension was cast, there have also been several cases where judges have refused to withdraw from a case.
- For instance-
- In 2019, Justice Arun Mishra had controversially refused to recuse himself from a Constitution Bench set up to re-examine a judgement he had delivered previously, despite several requests from the parties. Justice Mishra had reasoned that the request for recusal was really an excuse for “forum shopping” and agreeing could compromise the independence of the judiciary.
- In the Ayodhya-Ramjanmabhoomi case, Justice U U Lalit recused himself from the Constitution Bench after parties brought to his attention that he had appeared as a lawyer in a criminal case relating to the case.
The impartiality of judges is the cornerstone of a fair judicial process. It is an important part of rule against personal bias, affirming the principles of natural justice. Judicial recusal is court’s way to keep the promise of dispensing fair and impartial justice, and must decide controversies without bias.