In an exceptional move, the Madras High Court has decided to suo motu take up the revision of the acquittal of Tamil Nadu Minister K Ponmudy and his wife in a disproportionate assets case. The couple was acquitted by a court in Vellore in June.
A single-judge bench of Justice N Anand Venkatesh on Thursday issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government, Minister Ponmudi, and his wife P Visalatchi, and fixed the case for hearing on September 7.
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The court has described it as a case where the celestial stars of the accused appeared to be lining up perfectly, with the blessings of judicial personages.
The High Court has justified its decision to take suo motu cognisance by saying that the High Court cannot abjure its duty to prevent miscarriage of justice by interfering where interference is imperative.
According to the court, where a manifest illegality by a criminal court resulting in gross failure of justice comes to the notice of the High Court, it is its bounden duty as a constitutional court to set right the illegality and to ensure that public confidence in the criminal justice system is maintained.
“The public must never get the impression that the Umpire is taking sides, lest the whole game is reduced to a farce,” the bench said.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The case against the minister and his wife was transferred to Principal District Judge, Viluppuram, which was the Designated Special Court for trial of criminal cases relating to MPs and MLAs.
The judge then wrote a letter to the High Court requesting permission to conduct a special sitting for four days from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon for expeditious completion of the case.
The request was rejected by the High Court through Official Memorandum on June 7, 2022, long after the dates for which permission had been sought expired.
Along with refusal to grant permission, the High Court injuncted the Principal District Judge, Viluppuram, directing her not to take up the case until further orders.
The High Court then issued an order directing the Principal District Judge, Viluppuram, to transfer the case to the file of the Principal District Judge, Vellore. The accused were eventually acquitted in the case.
Facts that Alerted the High Court
- The case was transferred to a different court at the fag-end of the trial.
- The Principal District Judge, Vellore, managed to write a 226-page judgment within a span of four days.
- The District Judge, Vellore, demitted office shortly thereafter.
A Case that Lingered on for Years, Suddenly Picked Pace: HC
The High Court noted that by 06.06.2023, a case that had thus far been lingering on for years started to move with great alacrity.
Celestial Stars of Accused Lined Up Perfectly: HC
Referring to the speed with which the trial in the case suddenly proceeded, the High Court remarked that the accused perhaps drew inspiration from Paulo Coelho, who said that “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”.
The court further noted that by the first week of June 2023, the celestial stars of the accused appeared to be lining up perfectly, with the blessings of judicial personages, including the Principal District Judge, who was set to retire soon.
Referring to the 226-page verdict of acquittal, written by the judge within four days, marshalling the evidence of 172 prosecution witnesses and 381 documents, the High Court said that the unique feat of industry on the part of the Principal District Judge, Vellore, can find few parallels.
“It is a feat that even judicial mortals in constitutional courts can only dream of. Two days thereafter, on 30.06.2023, the Principal District Judge, Vellore, retired and cheerfully rode off into the sunset,” the High Court remarked.
Shocking, Calculated Attempt to Manipulate & Subvert the Criminal Justice System: HC
The High Court concluded that there is not even a speck of legality to anything that has been done in the case since the
The High Court administration injuncted the Principal District Judge, Viluppuram, from proceeding with the case.
The ‘dubious and curious process of transfer’ followed by the trial and judgment of the Principal District Judge, Vellore, are wholly illegal and are nullities in the eyes of the law.
The court further said that there was a calculated attempt to undermine and thwart the administration of criminal justice.
QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE HIGH COURT:
- Where did the High Court get the power to issue an Official Memorandum in June 2022 injuncting the Principal District Judge, Viluppuram, from proceeding with the case?
- What was the tearing hurry to restrain the Principal Judge, Viluppuram, from hearing a corruption case that had been pending for years?
The court remarked that use of an official memorandum to restrain a Principal District Court from exercising judicial functions is something unheard of.
The court said that while it may be possible to interfere with judicial proceedings of a lower court on the judicial side, to interfere with the same through official memorandums on the administrative side is palpably illegal and without any legal sanctity.
- Where did the Administrative Committee, comprising of two judges, get the power on the administrative side to transfer a pending criminal case from one district to another and, that too, by way of a note?
The High Court stated that the power to transfer a criminal case from one district to another is a judicial power vested in the High Court under Section 407 CrPC.
“It is, therefore, clear that there is no authority under law authorising two judges to exercise powers, on the administrative side, to transfer a pending criminal case from one district to another and that too by way of a note,” the court observed.
- Can the Chief Justice’s approval clothe the note of the Administrative judges with any legality?
The High Court observed that while the Chief Justice is the Master of the Roster vis- -vis the Benches in the High Court, it does not follow that the Chief Justice enjoys administrative power to transfer a criminal case pending in a District Court to another district.
According to the court, no such power exists or has been shown to exist either by law or by convention.
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