Delhi HC overturns transfer of Bhushan Steel money laundering case

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Delhi HC overturns transfer of Bhushan Steel money laundering case

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday annulled a trial court’s order that transferred the Bhushan Steel money laundering case from one judge to another.

The transfer order came after allegations from accused Ajay S. Mittal, claiming the judge made “prejudicial comments” about granting bail in ED cases. He moved a transfer plea after his wife allegedly overheard the judge, in response to a question from a court official, remark: “ED matters mein kaun si bail hoti hai? (roughly, What kind of bail is there in ED matters?)”, during a hearing.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma ruled that the alleged comment did not indicate any bias against the accused or favouritism towards the prosecuting agency.

Consequently, the high court sent the matter back to the Principal District and Sessions Judge, asking the judge to reconsider the transfer application. This reconsideration should include calling for comments from the judge concerned and taking into account the observations made in Tuesday’s order.

Justice Sharma stressed the importance of a judge’s reputation, built on years of dedicated service. She noted that judges have the right to protect their reputation, and confidential conversations between judges and court staff should remain protected.

Highlighting the potential risks of Virtual Court (VC) technology, she contended its widespread use could be misused, making judges vulnerable to unfounded allegations based on overheard conversations. Transferring cases on such grounds could undermine the dignity of the court and compromise the judiciary’s integrity, she added. Such apprehensions should not be entertained without solid evidence, she held, disposing of the Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) plea against the transfer order.

Special counsel Zoheb Hossain, representing the ED, had earlier contended that the trial court’s decision to transfer the case was based solely on the unverified claim of the accused’s wife. He had argued that neither the defence counsel heard the comment nor was an affidavit submitted to substantiate the claim, adding this scenario represented forum shopping, where parties manipulate judicial proceedings to achieve favourable outcomes.

Hossain had said that such allegations, if accepted without thorough verification, could undermine the criminal justice system. He pointed out that the accused’s wife had been granted bail by the same court handling ED cases, which should negate claims of bias.

As senior advocate Sandeep Sethi, representing the accused, had maintained that the transfer order was merely administrative, Hossain countered it, saying that its implications extended beyond administrative logistics, impacting judicial fairness and integrity.

The trial court had initially granted the transfer based on the accused’s claim that he could not expect an impartial hearing, given the judge’s alleged comments. It had deemed it necessary to consider the accused’s perception of bias to ensure a fair trial.

Justice Sharma had, in the previous hearing, noted the broader implications of the case, expressing her concerns about the effect of social media and public perceptions on judicial independence. She also dwelled on the personal challenges that judges face when their decisions are scrutinised and criticised, often based on unverified information.

 


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