A Division Bench of the Bombay High Court recently upheld the decision to transfer a case from a lower court judge after one of the parties’ lawyers commented on the judge’s FaceBook post.
Justice Shantanu Kemkar and Justice Nitin W. Sambre in fact opined that the lawyer’s act of commenting on the judge’s post is capable of being viewed as “professional misconduct”, observing, “The conduct of the Petitioner No. 4 in responding to the Facebook post of a Judge who was hearing their Appeals, in the aforesaid background, for most unfault for conduct and could be viewed as professional misconduct upon examining the same in detail. (sic)”
The matter before the Court concerned a property dispute between two families being heard by Additional District Judge S.B. Bahalkar at the Pune Sessions Court. The lawyer in question, Sonia Atmaram Prabhu, who was also one of the petitioners and was representing her own family before the court, commented on a Facebook post of the judge hearing her case.
Acting on the incident, Judge Bahalkar informed the same to Principal District Judge S.M. Modak, who then ordered transfer of the matter. The petitioners had now approached the High Court, inter alia demanding “appropriate action” against both the judges for “misusing their powers to violate the rights of the appellants”.
The petitioners had also sought guidelines from the Court on whether a judge can recuse herself from hearing a particular matter on the ground that the Advocate or a party in a pending matter before her visited the judge’s account on any social media platform.
Examining the facts of the case before it, the Court opined that the order of transfer of the matter from Justice Bahalkar was “justified”. It further asserted that recusal of a Judge from hearing a case is “an issue within his personal domain”, observing,
“A Judge may recuse himself on the basis of his personal or private interest in the subject-matter of the litigation, his intimacy with the party/parties to a lis which is brought before him, his own conscience about the matter or the parties or his perception about conflict of interest in taking up the matter etc. Such decision whether to recuse or not is purely within the domain of the said Judge who is dealing with the matter.”
The Court also highlighted the gravity of the scenario where a party asks a judge to recuse himself, noting, “Asking a Judge to recuse himself by a party or a litigant is required to be viewed very seriously unless by such request certain issues are brought to the notice of the Judge taking up the matter which disqualifies him from taking such matter on the issues referred supra, viz – personal or private interest, intimacy with the party/parties to a lis etc.”