A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra on Monday accepted the unconditional apology of an NGO official who cast “contemptuous aspersions” on Misra in connection with a case, reported Live Law. Vimal Wadhawan, general secretary of Bharatiya Matdata Sangathan, had questioned if Misra, whose cousin is an advocate and a Biju Janata Dal MP, could hear a case seeking to debar legislators from continuing as lawyers. He had cited a potential conflict of interest.

On August 20, a Supreme Court bench had warned Wadhawan that he could be fined up to up to Rs 25 lakh, saying “the trend of targeting, maligning judges must stop”.

Earlier this month, Wadhawan had filed submissions in the court asking if Misra could be part of the bench hearing a petition demanding that MPs and MLAs be barred from practicing law as it was in “violation of Bar Council of India rules” and a “conflict of interest”.

“I wish to put some additional facts which is not only necessary to do complete justice in this fair matter but also essential to instill confidence among the public at large,” Wadhawan had submitted. “Pinaki Misra is a cousin of Chief Justice of India. He is a Lok Sabha MP representing the BJD. Hence, he is definitely an affected and interested party in this matter.”

“Pinaki Mishra has power of voting on the impeachment of Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts,” said Wadhawan’s application. “Therefore, allowing him to practice as an advocate in the Supreme Court and High Courts is a very serious conflict of interest. It may allow the Hon’ble Judges to feel beholden to him and oblige them with favorable judgments/orders.”

Attorney General KK Venugopal said Wadhawan was trying to force Misra’s recusal from the case. Venugopal demanded strict action against Wadhawan, saying all the allegations were scathing and aimed at scandalising the court.

Accepting his mistake on Monday, Wadhawan apologised to Misra, who said such allegations “ultimately affected the institution” and “wild assumptions” could lead to a catastrophe.

“We have to ensure we protect the dignity of this court as there is a trend nowadays of targetting judges,” said Justice DY Chandrachud. “Anybody who does it must realise the consequences, we want to send across a strong message.”