The Bombay Lawyers Association on Tuesday wrote to the acting chief justice of the Bombay High Court seeking “remedial action” after the judge who had been hearing the petitions in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case was reassigned, Bar and Bench reported.
Justice Revati Mohite-Dere had been hearing a set of five petitions challenging the discharge of some senior Gujarat Police officers accused in the case. On February 24, the Bombay High Court reassigned the matter to Justice NW Sambre, who will now have to hear the petitions from scratch.
In their letter to Acting Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani, the lawyers’ association said the replacement is intriguing “considering how Justice Mohite-Dere has consistently reprimanded the CBI’s approach to the case”. “In this background change of assignment of Justice Dere is sending wrong signals to the public at large , [and] undermining the faith of the people in the institution of the judiciary,” it said.
Mohite-Dere had lifted the gag order on media reportage of the proceedings in the case on January 24. She had also pulled up the Central Bureau of Investigation for not presenting the prosecutor’s case with clarity, for opposing the discharge of lower-level police personnel while remaining quiet on the discharge of senior officers, and after several witnesses turned hostile.
The association also raised concern over the assignment of its petition asking the court to direct the CBI to file a revision application challenging the discharge of BJP leader Amit Shah in the case. In the letter, the association said the petition had been assigned to a division bench headed by Justice Bhushan Gavai – one of the two judges who had denied a cover-up in the death of CBI Judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya.
In November 2017, The Caravan had published a report that raised doubts on whether Loya’s death was natural. Since then, there have been demands for an independent inquiry into his death. A delegation of Opposition MPs met President Ram Nath Kovind on February 9 and given him a letter signed by 114 lawmakers, demanding a Supreme Court-monitored inquiry by a Special Investigation Team.
“In the circumstance, we request your good self to initiate urgent remedial measure so that not only justice be done, but it should appear to have been done,” the letter added.
Senior lawyers told Scroll.in that the reassignment of judges may be “routine”, but is unfortunate given that Mohite-Dere had already finished hearing most of the arguments from all parties to the case.