Justice Murlidhar, the third senior-most Judge of Delhi High Court has been transferred; he was hearing cases on alleged hate speeches and he had tough questions for the Delhi Police, and the Government, over the continuing violence in Delhi, which has claimed more than 30 lives and left about 200 injured.
The Ministry of Law and Justice transferred him to Punjab and Haryana High Court, on 26th February, after approval from the President. The notification says–
“In exercise of the power conferred by Clause (1) of Article 222 of the Constitution of India, the President, after consultation with the Chief Justice of India, is pleased to transfer Justice S Muralidhar, Judge of the Delhi high court as a Judge of the Punjab and Haryana high court and to assume charge of his office in the Punjab and Haryana High Court”.
Justice Murlidhar was hearing a “hate speech” case, filed by Harsh Mander. On Wednesday, he had an exchange of words with Solicitor general (SG) Tushar Mehta regarding the filing of FIRs against three BJP leaders, (Kapil Mishra, Parvesh Verma, Abhay Verma, and Anurag Thakur), for allegedly making inflammatory speeches.
The SG, Mehta, took the opinion that there was no need for an urgent hearing and as the proceedings progressed, it also became clear that neither he nor DCP (Crime) Rajesh Deo had seen the videos of the inflammatory speeches in question.
In response, Justice Muralidhar said that he was “amazed at the state of affairs of the Delhi Police” and ordered the video to be played in court immediately.
After that Judges gave the SG and the Police time till 2:30 PM to decide whether the speeches were provocative and whether an FIR should be registered.
FIR Would Be Registered “At An Appropriate Stage”
Once the proceedings continued, Mander’s lawyer, Mr. Colin Gonsalves presented his arguments on why an FIR should be filed in the matter. The SG accused Colin of bias for selecting only three speeches, and he claimed that there were many such speeches which can amount to cognizable offences by others.
On this, Justice Muralidhar commented strongly. He said: “What you are saying shows the police in an even worse light. You are saying the police not only failed to take action in these three clips but many more clips as well!”
The SG responded that FIRs would be filed at an “appropriate time”, to which Justice Muralidhar said; “What’s the appropriate time, Mr. Mehta? The city is burning”
He also asked: “How many more lives must be lost?”
The SG explained that the police was investigating the matter, and could register the FIR when the situation was ‘conducive’ to do so.
“If you fail to take action, that conducive situation will not emerge,” Justice Muralidhar countered. He also went on to say: “We do not need a repeat of 1984,” a statement he had expressed at the previous emergency service case as well.
Transferred Hours After Proceeding
A few hours after this proceeding, the Ministry of Law and Justice issued a notification for Justice Muralidhar’s transfer from the Delhi High Court to the Punjab & Haryana High Court.
The transfer was approved on 26th February, and been recommended by the Supreme Court Collegium on 12 February.
The Delhi High Court Bar Association condemned the decision of the Collegium, on the grounds that it was “not only detrimental to our noble Institution but also tend(s) to erode and dislodge the faith of the common litigant in the justice dispensation system.”
The Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad suggested that this change was carried out according to the normal process.
“Transfer of Honorable Justice Muralidhar was done pursuant to the recommendation dated 12.02.2020 of the Supreme Court collegium headed by Chief Justice of India. While transferring the judge, consent of the judge is taken. The well-settled process has been followed,” he said
On the other hand, the DHCBA warned that transfers of this sort could negatively affect “free and fair delivery of justice” by judges of the high courts, leading to a dangerous situation for the judiciary.