Himachal Pradesh High Court: Anoop Chitkara J., dismissed the petition finding no discrimination or likelihood of bias in the instant case at hand.

The facts of the case are such that the private respondents 3 to 6, came up before the third Judge, under Section 151 Civil Procedure Code i.e. CPC, alleging that they have come to know that wife of the Judge who gave the dissenting pronouncement in the Letters Patent Appeals and decided in favour of the petitioners, is related to the wife of one of the Appellants and thus the judgment given by the said Judge is non est as being coram non-judice.

Counsel Mr Bipin Chander Negi submitted that the allegations pointed out in the application establish bias. Thus, the application deserves acceptance in terms of its prayers. He relied on judgments below:

The D K Khanna v Union of India, 1972 SCC OnLine HP 22,  wherein it was observed

“[24] Bias has been classified into different categories. We are concerned here with personal bias. Personal bias may arise from personal hostility to one party or from personal friendship or family relationship with the other. In the case of family relationship, the challenge to the proceeding need only establish so close a degree of relationship as to give rise to the reasonable likelihood of the Judge espousing the cause as his own.”

The State of Punjab v. Sumedh Singh Saini, (2011) 14 SCC 770 wherein it was observed

[36] Thus, it is evident that the allegations of judicial bias are required to be scrutinized taking into consideration the factual matrix of the case in hand. The court must bear in mind that a mere ground of appearance of bias and not actual bias is enough to vitiate the judgment/order. Actual proof of prejudice in such a case may make the case of the party concerned stronger, but such a proof is not required. In fact, what is relevant is the reasonableness of the apprehension in that regard in the mind of the party. However, once such an apprehension exists, the trial/judgment/order etc. stands vitiated for want of impartiality. Such judgment/order is a nullity and the trial “coram nonjudice”

 Counsel for 3rd and 4th respondents Mr Rakeshswar Lal Sood and Mr Bipan Chander Negi submitted that it is the apprehension in the applicants’ minds, which is crucial while coming to bias. This bias mentioned in the application must be brought to the notice of  Mr Justice Sureshwar Thakur to seek his response about the correctness of facts. Admission or denial of relationship can come only by way of a reply for which this Court must issue notices.

The Court observed that the burden to mention all these facts was on the applicants because that information was only in their knowledge and none else. The applicants are not ordinary litigants but serving District and Sessions Judges, who have filed this application seeking adjudication from this Court. In the absence of such material information, the applicants fail to make a prima facie case worth issuing notices.

The Court stated further “thing which is stated is that they came to know of such relationship only after the pronouncement of the verdict. They should have mentioned the reasons for fishing an inquiry, the time of information, the source, the motive behind furnishing information, if it was given without any efforts from the applicants’ side, etc. The applicants knew the finest points of law. They would be aware of the consequences of withholding material particulars and the scope of improvements if made. Despite that, they chose not to disclose any of such particulars. They have not assigned any reasons due to which they have kept their cards closer to their chests.”

The Court observed that merely because persons are related do not establish that the relationships were working or cordial. It was further observed that the allegations lack necessary and material particulars. The burden was on the aggrieved to show the approximate date of knowledge of the relations, so as to steer clear of shady grey areas of reasonable doubt. The crucial aspect could have been the time period of such knowledge to enable this Court to arrive at a reasonable belief that the applicants had acquired such information after the dissenting verdict’s pronouncement and not before that. A complaint must disclose all material facts, whereas the allegations made in this application are unsubstantiated.

The Court thus held “the allegations levelled in the application are unsubstantiated, general, withhold material particulars, and prima facie fail to show discrimination or bias or even likelihood of bias”. 

In view of the above, petition was dismissed.[Rajeev Bharadwaj v. State of H.P., CMP No.877 of 2021 in LPA No. 33 of 2019, decided on 08-03-2021]

Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

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