The public expression of dissent by four senior judges of the Supreme Court on Friday has cast light on the divisions in the Bench of India’s highest court. It also exposed the fissures in the Bar, with lawyers’ associations striking markedly different stands on the issue.

While the Bar Council of India wanted the Supreme Court to resolve the matter internally and asked politicians to keep away from the developments, the Supreme Court Bar Association took a strong position in support of the four judges who held a press conference on Friday and accused Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra of failing to follow convention in allotting cases to benches.

The Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association, on the other hand, said the press conference had “tarnished the image of the judiciary” in the eyes of the public.

Marked differences

The Bar Council of India is led by its chairperson Manan Kumar Mishra, who backed Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

In April 2014, before the general elections, Mishra had addressed a press conference at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s headquarters at which he hit out at the United Progressive Alliance for corruption. He even said he would campaign in Varanasi, Narendra Modi’s constituency. “The Gujarat model of development must be replicated everywhere to ensure country-wide progress,” he had said.

On Saturday, the Bar Council of India made it clear that the problems the judiciary faced were an internal matter and asked politicians not to interfere. A direct reference was made to Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

The BJP took a similar stand on Friday after Gandhi addressed a press conference and raised the question of an investigation into the death of Maharashtra judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, who was handling the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case in which BJP president Amit Shah was an accused. Loya died in December 2014.

“We are surprised and pained that the Congress which has been rejected number of times by people in elections is trying to gain political mileage,” said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.

At their press conference on Friday, the four dissident judges said that they had spoken to Chief Justice Dipak Misra about the assignment of the Loya case shortly before addressing the media.

Strong statement

On Sunday, a seven-member team of the Bar Council of India met Chief Justice Dipak Misra and expressed the hope that the matter would be resolved soon.

The Supreme Court Bar Association made the strongest of all statements. Its president Vikas Singh, a former additional solicitor general during the United Progressive Alliance regime, criticised the four judges – Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph – for not revealing anything substantial during their press conference. However, he said that the opinion of the four senior judges was of grave concern.

“Just creating doubts in the minds of the people will not serve the interest of the judiciary,” said Singh.

A resolution passed by the Supreme Court Bar Association on Friday said that the full court of the Supreme Court should immediately consider the points raised by the four judges. The association also wanted all Public Interest Litigation petitions to be heard by benches headed by the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. It also specifically added that matters listed for Monday, which included a petition seeking an investigation into judge Loya’s death, should be re-allotted.

The suggestion was drastic given that under the Constitution, seniority does not provide any special position for Supreme Court judges. All judges, irrespective of their seniority, are equal under the Constitution and have the right and powers to hear matters of public importance.

The Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association in its statement said that the developments had tarnished the reputation of the apex court. This association is led by Gopal Singh, who has been the standing counsel for Bihar in the Supreme Court since 2005.