Supreme Court: The bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul* and R. Subhash Reddy, JJ has temporarily restored the senior designation of Advocate Yatin Narendra Oza who was stripped off this designation after he levelled charges of corruption against the registry of the Gujarat High Court.
What is the case about?
On 21.03.2020, Oza wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of India making serious allegations against a senior-most Judge of the Gujarat High Court in his capacity as President of the Bar Association. He then transgressed all limits by circulating the letter in the Bar Association’s WhatsApp group after calling the High Court a “Gamblers Den” in a Press Conference.
Oza was then stripped off his Senior Advocate designation. The Court cited Rule 26 of the High Court of Gujarat (Designation of Senior Advocates) Rules 2018, which states “In the event a Senior Advocate is found guilty of conduct which according to the Full Court disentitles the Senior Advocate concerned to be worthy of the designation, the Full Court may review its decision to designate the person concerned and recall the same”. Read more
High Court’s line of arguments
The High Court labelled the apology rendered by Oza as a repeated behaviour of what would amount to “slap, say sorry, and forget”. The High Court objected to the Writ Petition filed before the Supreme Court on the ground that what has been withdrawn is a ‘privilege’ and not a ‘right’. It was further argued that the conferment of this privilege weighs not only on the existence of certain legal acumen but a much higher standard of behaviour and if such presupposition disappears, the authority is empowered to withdraw the privilege. Hence, re-conferment of this right on the petitioner through a writ of mandamus would be de hors the exercise of powers under statutory rules.
Oza’s line of arguments
Oza’s case on the other hand was that the Supreme Court should show compassion. The withdrawal of designation is not limited by time and is disproportionately harsh as the petitioner is not being given an opportunity to redeem himself. The filing of an application afresh for designation after the specified time bar is stated to not really be a redemption.
It was argued that he has bona fidely raised issues within the institution regarding non-circulation of matters, based on a large number of complaints received from the members of the Bar by him by reason of his holding the position of the President. He endeavoured to resolve the grievances within the system by writing several letters and making many representations which were in a sober and restrained language and that the grievance was stated to be not one against the Judges, but against the manner of working of the Registry. The Press Conference was stated to be the culmination of his inability to resolve the disputes, as a last resort where he got emotionally overwhelmed and made utterances of which he has been very apologetic from the very beginning.
Supreme Court’s ruling
While the Court found little ground to interfere with the High Court’s decision, it still thought it proper to give one more and last chance to Oza and hence, temporarily restored Oza’s Senior designation for a period of two years from 1.1.2022.
“It is the High Court which will watch and can best decide how the petitioner behaves and conducts himself as a senior counsel without any further opportunity. It will be for the High Court to take a final call whether his behaviour is acceptable in which case the High Court can decide to continue with his designation temporarily or restore it permanently.”
The Court made clear that if there is any infraction in the conduct of the petitioner within this period of two years, the High Court would be well within its rights to withdraw the indulgence.
“In effect, the fate of the petitioner is dependent on his appropriate conduct as a senior counsel before his own High Court, which will have the final say. All we are seeking to do is to give him a chance by providing a window of two years to show that he truly means what he has assured us. We can only hope that the petitioner abides by his assurances and does not give any cause for the High Court or for us to think otherwise.”
[Yatin Narendra Oza v. High Court of Gujarat, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1004, decided on 28.10.2021]
For Petitioner: Senior Advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi
*Judgment by: Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul