On 24th June, a single bench of the Calcutta High Court comprising of Justice Kausik Chanda reserved order on an application moved by Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister which sought his recusal from hearing her election petition due to Justice Chanda’s associations with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that he had when he was a lawyer.
The Chief Minister’s election petition challenged the election of Suvendhu Adhikari, a BJP candidate from Nandigram in the recent West Bengal assembly polls.
Justice Kausik Chanda asked Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Mamata Banerjee that, “This case was listed before me on 18th. That day no one said that Petitioner has sought re-assignment apprehending bias? Is it not the duty of the Counsel to point this out? You appear in Courts across the country Dr Singhvi, what is the standard practice?”
In response, Singhvi stated that recusal was not mentioned at that point as a formal application was yet to be filed.
Justice Chanda then queried whether he should proceed judicially or wait for an administrative order considering that the letter written by the Chief Minister seeking his recusal to the Acting Chief Justice was pending.
“It is your Lordship’s prerogative to decide the matter on the judicial side. If you see a ground, you may recuse at your own discretion. A request pending before the CJ is irrelevant after your Lordship has a judicial session of matter.” Singhvi responded.
Singhvi submitted before the court that Justice Chanda has had a close association with BJP. He was previously the head of the party’s legal cell and had even appeared on the party’s behalf in many cases.
“It is the duty of the Court to see that proceedings are free from any partiality. Justice must not only be done but seen to be done. If fair-minded people are likely to pre-judge the case, they will not have confidence in the injustice system. A recusal application was filed at the earliest possible opportunity. This answer your Lordship’s query- nothing has happened yet that this Court cannot decide the recusal application.” Singhvi stated.
Justice Chanda remarked during the hearing that, “There is a media trial already ongoing before this issue came up before Court. Hundreds of tweets have already been posted saying he should recuse. If I recuse now, will I be giving in to this media trial?”
The senior lawyer in response stated that public opinion should not matter in judicial determination.