NEW DELHI - Real estate tycoons, the Ansal brothers Friday made a Supreme Court judge quit the bench hearing their appeal against conviction for lapses in the June 1997 Uphaar theatre fire that killed 59 people and injured over a hundred others.
Ansal brothers, Gopal and Sushil, made Justice B.N. Agrawal abandon the hearing by telling him that they want to be represented by senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, who, however, is ‘embarrassed in appearing before him’ as Jethmalani had, in 2005, written in a newspaper on a controversy involving the judge.
The Ansals, accordingly, wanted Justice Agrawal to quit hearing their appeal and transfer it to any other judge of the apex court.
The Ansals resorted to the move as Justice Agrawal earlier on Sept 10, 2008, had cancelled their bail and ordered jail for them. He later also foiled their repeated attempts to secure bail.
Apparently stunned by the bizarre plea, Justice Agrawal quit the bench hearing Ansals’ appeal and referred them to Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnann to transfer the case to some other bench.
Justice Agrawal quit the bench though senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), pleaded to him to ignore the ‘bizarre and questionable’ plea. The CBI would file a lawsuit for contempt to court against the Ansals, Salve said.
The Ansals conveyed their ‘wishes’ to Justice Agrawal through a letter to the apex court registry, written by their advocate Sanjay Jain, hired to file their appeals and do other groundwork for filing their lawsuit.
They hired Jethmalani as their counsel to argue their case in the apex court, where the lawyers who file the case and those who argue it have to be different.
In his letter, on behalf of the Ansals and their arguing counsel Jethmalani, Jain said the Ansals wished to have Jethmalani as their counsel and mentioned Jethmalani’s predicament in appearing before Justice Agrawal.
‘The appellant (Ansals) in exercise of his right under Article 22 of the Constitution (to have free and fair trial) wants to be represented by the counsel of his choice, Ram Jethmalani,’ said Jain.
Jain added that Jethamalini ‘has serious embarrassment in appearing before Justice Agrawal’ owing to the two articles he wrote for the Asian Age newspaper in June 2005. The write-ups dealt with some controversies involving Justice Agrawal.
‘There should be no difficulty in your complying with the appellant’s request and wishes (to quit hearing their appeals),’ said Jain in his letter.
‘But if you feel otherwise, I have to request to take the instructions of the Chief Justice,’ the letter said.
The Ansals’ move attracted swift condemnation from among the lawyers.
After seeing Jain’s letter, one of the two senior-most law officers of the government told reporters: ‘This is unfortunate. It’s all the more unfortunate as the particular senior counsel has been doing this for years and had been getting away with it.’