First post-midnight hearing in Supreme Court’s annals

New Delhi, July 30 (IANS) The unprecedented hearing held at the Supreme Court past 3 a.m. on Thursday, in which 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon’s last ditch attempt to avert his execution was rejected, was the first of its kind in the apex court’s history and has been generally appreciated by the legal fraternity — though there were some discordant notes also.

It was the darkness of the night that made it clear that the country’s top court was meeting at an extremely odd hour, while otherwise everything appeared like any other normal working day.

The judges’ library was opened for making available Supreme Court Reporters having compilation of judgments and other statutes for reference by the judges in the course of the hearing.

The court staff, including court masters, stenographers, court assistants, and other subordinate staff, too, were present.

Memon’s lawyers including Anand Grover, Prashant Bhushan, Yug Mohit Chaudhry, and their juniors to assist, along with social activists were present in the court,

So was Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi along with his team of lawyers to assist him in articulating the government position on the last minute plea by Memon seeking postponement of his execution by 14 days.

There was general appreciation of the judges’ decision to hold a hearing in the court premises in the late night hours but there were some who dissented.

The Supreme Court Bar Association’s former president M.N. Krishnamani, senior counsel and former high court judges Fakhruddin and P.K. Dash welcomed holding of the court proceedings at the late hour but another senior counsel Shekhar Naphade found it “unwarranted and abuse of the process of law”.

“If the matter is important they can sit even at midnight,” said Krishnamani, noting that in the case of industrialist Lalit Mohan Thapper, the then chief justice of India E.S. Venkataramiah granted him bail at mid-night after holding a hearing at his residence.

“Giving justice is more important than the timing when the court is assembling,” he said, quoting Chief Justice Venkataramiah, in office from June 19, 1989 to December 17, 1989, who had said: “If I feel that injustice has been done, there is nothing in the world that can come between me and him (one who is wronged) to grant appropriate relief.”

Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh High Court’s former judge Fakhruddin, who is now practising as senior counsel in the apex court, said whenever there was such a case, the Supreme Court and high courts “had risen to the occasion”.

He cited an instance when the execution of a death row convict was stayed by the then chief justice Y.V. Chandrachud after a plea was moved through a telegram and subsequently followed up telephonically.

Chief justice Chandrachud, in office from February 22, 1978 to July 11, 1985, upon receiving the “lightning” phone call from Fakhruddin held the hearing at his residence and stayed the execution. In this case, the Supreme Court had earlier confirmed the death sentence of the death row convict.

Fakhruddin at that time was a lawyer and was heading the Madhya Pradesh High Court Legal Aid and Advice Sub Committee.

Subsequently, when this convict wanted to donate his eyes after execution, Justice J.S. Verma issued directions to that affect and directed that his funeral would be done at state expense.

Dash, a former judge of Orissa High Court and subsequently that of Allahabad High Court, said the hearing at such late hours sent a “good message to the entire world” about the Indian judiciary and that “our judges know their duties well”.

However, Naphade said the holding of the hearing was “uncalled for”. “The whole petition was an abuse of law and did not warrant assembling (the court) at such an unearthly hour,” he said.

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