In The Court Of The Father

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Illustration: Sudeep Chaudhuri

EVERYONE KNOWS the difference between right and wrong. A judge more so. In the chaos of India’s democracy the wisdom of a judge is often a beacon, interpreting our wrongs and inspiring us to aspire for the right path. In this, the Allahabad High Court has long been a worthy guide. As India’s oldest High Court, it had a reputation for being noble and just. That was, well, about 40 years ago. Since then, the kernel of doubt has grown, fed by an overall rise in malfeasance in the country, until it exploded on 26 November.

That day, two Supreme Court justices, Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra, said: “We are sorry to say but a lot of complaints are coming against certain judges of the Allahabad High Court relating to their integrity. Some judges have their kith and kin practising in the same court, and within a few years of starting practice, the sons or relations of the judge become multimillionaires, have huge bank balances, luxurious cars, huge houses and are enjoying a luxurious life. This is a far cry from the days when the sons and other relatives of judges could derive no benefit from their relationship and had to struggle at the Bar like any other lawyer.”

What got them going was a routine case in the Allahabad High Court. Raja Khan, the litigant, went to court saying he wanted to hold a fair, the Jeth Mela, on Wakf land in Bahraich district in Uttar Pradesh. Bahraich is under the jurisdiction of the Lucknow Bench of the high court. Two times the Lucknow Bench said no. Raja Khan then went to the Allahabad HC, where judge Rakesh Sharma, on a single-judge bench, said he could hold the mela on Wakf land. It wasn’t over though. A Division bench in Allahabad overturned Sharma’s judgment. Now Khan went to the Supreme Court, where Katju tore into the Allahabad High Court. “The faith of the common man in the country is shaken to the core by such shocking and outrageous orders as the kind which have been passed by the single judge… Something is rotten in the State of Denmark, said Shakespeare in Hamlet, and it can similarly be said something is rotten in the Allahabad High Court, as this case illustrates.” This is where TEHELKA entered the story. The Allahabad High Court is India’s biggest, with a sanctioned strength of 160 judges. Were things so bad? What did it mean for the country’s justice delivery?

IN ITS edition dated 11 December, TEHELKA found nine judges whose immediate relatives were practising in the same court (Judges hear cases argued by sons. Not good counsel at all). In this report, we dig further. Now, we find half the Allahabad High Court judges have immediate relatives practising in the same court. While there are no rules barring relatives from practising in the same court, this was still disturbing. Thirty-five of the current strength of 70 judges in the Allahabad High Court have no problem with kith and kin in the same court, people they know intimately outside the courtroom and who are definitely in a position to derive the resultant advantage.

“The first thing I did after moving to the Supreme Court was to ask my son to shift from Delhi to Allahabad,” says former Chief Justice of India VN Khare, who retired from the post in May 2004. There is reason why Khare was so particular. “Let us say there are four judges whose sons are practising in the same court. The son of A will not appear in his father’s court. The son of B will not appear in his father’s court and so on. But they will appear in each other’s courts and there is a general understanding that if you help my son, I’ll help your son. This is happening in many cases,” says former union law minister Shanti Bhushan. Former Attorney General Soli J Sorabjee is worried too. “The practice has been there for some years, but what is disturbing is the numbers now. The Bar Council must intervene and there must be peer pressure to stop this,” says Sorabjee.

Progeny following in a parent’s footsteps, and gaining from it, is not strange. It happens in many professions, notably politics. But when it happens in the judiciary, it leaves room for doubt on how justice is dispensed. After the Supreme Court lashing, the Allahabad High Court held a full court session and ‘took exception to the observations’. On 7 December, the high court filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking the expunction of the critical remarks. So far TEHELKA has found half the Allahabad High Court judges letting their relatives practice in the same court. It is not TEHELKA’s case that it makes all the judges corrupt. It is our case that the judiciary ought to be beyond doubt. Right now, it isn’t.

With inputs from Amod Pandey in Allahabad

Abdul Mateens
Court: Lucknow Bench
DoJ: 21 December 2002
Relatives: Abdul Moin (brother)
Abhinava Upadhya
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 5 May 2008
Relatives:Ritesh (son)
Anil Kumar
Court: Lucknow Bench
DoJ: 13 April 2009
Relatives: Ankit (son), Akhil (brother), RP Srivastava (father)
Bala Krishna Narayana
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 5 May 2008
Relatives: Dhruv Narayana (father), A Narayana (son)
Devendra Pratap Singh
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 21 December 2002
Relatives: Vishesh (son)
Devi Prasad Singh
Court:Lucknow Bench
DoJ:20 December 2003
Relatives: Ravi (son)
Dilip Gupta
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 7 January 2004
Relatives: Sunita Agarwal (sister-in-law))
Imtiyaz Murtaza
Court:Allahabad HC
DoJ: 12 November 2001
Relatives: Rishad, Nadeem
Krishna Murari
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ:7 January 2004
Relatives: Uday Karan Saxena (brother-in-law), GN Verma (uncle)
Prakash Krishna
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 21 December 2002
Relatives: Ashish Agarwal (son)

Prakash Chandra Verma
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ:5 February 1999
Relatives: Jyotirjay (son)
Raj Mani Chauhan
Court: Lucknow Bench
DoJ:21 July 2008
Relatives: Saurav (son)
Rakesh Sharma
Court:Allahabad HC
DoJ: 7 January 2004
Relatives: Shivam (son)
Ravindra Singh
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 24 September 2004
Relatives: Akhilesh (brother)
Sanjay Misra
Court:Allahabad HC
DoJ: 24 September 2004
Relatives: Akhilesh (brother)
Satya Poot Mehrotra
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 14 February 2002
Relatives: Anil (brother), Nishant (son)
Shashi Kant Gupta
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 5 May 2008
Relatives: Rohan (son)
Sheo Kumar Singh
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 24 April 2001
Relatives: Mahesh Narayan (son), BK Singh (brother)
Shri Kant Tripathi
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 13 April 2009
Relatives: Pravin (son)
Satyendra Singh Chauhan
Court: Lucknow Bench
DoJ: 5 October 2005
Relatives: Rajiv (son)
Sunil Ambwani
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ:24 April 2001
Relatives: Manisha (daughter)
Surendra Singh
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 5 May 2008
Relatives: Umang (son)
Ved Pal
Court: Lucknow Bench
DoJ:21 July 2008
Relatives: Vivek & Ajay (sons)
Vimlesh Kumar Shukla
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 21 December 2002
Relatives: Kamlesh (brother))
Vineet Saran
Court:Allahabad HC
DoJ: 14 February 2002
Relatives: AB Saran (father), Kartik (son)
Rakesh Tiwari
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 14 February 2002
Relatives: Vineet Mishra (brother-in-law)
Virendra Kumar Dixit
Court: Lucknow Bench
DoJ: 13 April 2009
Relatives: Manu (son)
Yatindra Singh
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 5 February 1999
Relatives: Vikas Chaudhry (father), Kunal (nephew), Manjari Singh (daughter-in-law)
Sabhajeet Yadav
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 7 October 2004
Relatives: PP Yadav (son)
Ashok Kumar Roopanwal
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 20 November 2006
Relatives: Tanu (daughter)
Amar Saran
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 20 December 2003
Relatives: Sikandar Kochar (nephew)
Amreshwar Pratap Sahi
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 24 September 2004
Relatives: RN Singh (father-in-law), Govind Saran (brother-in-law)

Ashok Bhushan
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 24 April 2001
Relatives: Anil (brother) & Adarsh (son)
Rajesh Kumar Agrawal
Court: Allahabad HC
DoJ: 5 February 1999
Relatives: Bharat (brother)

Relatives practising in the same court should be transferred’

Prashant Bhushan
Advocate, Supreme Court

There is no rule barring relatives of judges from practising in the same court. So why should we be worried?

Though there is no rule that bars relatives of judges from practising in the same court, many of them do get the advantage. The time has come for the establishment to take a call on this. Judges should not be appointed in the same court where immediate relatives are practising. Immediate relatives mean spouse, children, brothers and sisters.

Where is the real problem?

We do not have proper screening of the judges being appointed. Therefore, we find many undesirable people whose children practise in the same court. The judges give unfair advantage to the wards of other brother judges. No system exists to examine the character of the judges, or to check if they are competent, or if they adhere to the basic principles of the Constitution. Therefore, many non-secular judges get appointed. Like in the Ayodhya judgment of Justice Agarwal and Justice Sharma who are clearly not secular or in the case of many judges who do not subscribe to the Directive Principles, which contain many egalitarian principles. The system of appointing judges must change. Judges who have immediate relatives practising in the same court should be transferred to another high court.

Is there a mechanism within the judiciary to rectify the mistakes?

As of today, no judge can be removed without impeachment. All that can be done is to transfer them. So, all relatives practising in the same court should be transferred.


‘I think it is pretty bad. If the Income Tax Returns of sons and relatives are examined, it may be seen that they are filing very high amounts. Like Rakesh Sharma, whose judgment Justice Katju cast aside in his admonition. Sharma retired in July. Reports suggest his son, in practice for three years, has filed ITR of Rs. 80 lakh. How can one earn so much in three years of practice?’

Shanti Bhushan
Former Union Law Minister


‘It all depends on the integrity of a judge and a lawyer. The practice has been there for some years now, but what is disturbing is the current numbers. If lawyers are getting favourable judgments repeatedly, the Bar Council must intervene. There must be peer pressure to stop this practice’

Soli J Sorabjee
Former Attorney General


‘Judges should not be appointed in a court they have practised in’

KTS Tulsi
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court

How does the Bar look at the ‘uncle-judge’ syndrome?

There is great resentment in almost every Bar against the relatives of judges. These people come in and use the influence of their fathers and mothers. It is clear to the Bar that they are preferred over seniors only because of their relationships. It is serious and is undermining the independence of the judiciary.

Is this practice prevalent only in the Allahabad High Court?

I haven’t come across a place where it is not prevalent, and I have practised in almost all courts of the country.

What is a possible solution?

We need a policy that no one is to be appointed judge in a court he has practised in. It is not just the question of relatives; there is a problem of working with former colleagues in the Bar, with whom you may have had rivalries. When one is transferred to another court, there are no favourites or non-favourites. As of now, the law minister is thinking on the lines of an undertaking from a judge that they will not object to their transfer when their relatives are practising in the same court.

The code of ethics doesn’t stop lawyers from practising in the court of a relative. Is there still a problem then?

There is a problem. Judges can’t mingle freely with the Bar. The only social life they have is within the family of judges. Therefore, there is much familiarity even with children of fraternal judges. It is not enough that you are not appearing. They should not be appointed in the same court.


‘There is a need to stop this practice. Sometimes the character of a judge is so high that the presence of his son or relative doesn’t make a difference to him. But, this is not the case with our character in India. Justice Katju is absolutely right’

Ram Jethmalani
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court


‘I don’t think transfer is the complete answer because corruption will travel with the transfer. Two questions need to be addressed. Why are bad judges appointed? By a proper collegium and not a judicial cabal. Second, how do you deal with judicial corruption? By a proper complaint machinery and reporting system short of impeachment’

Rajiv Dhavan
Senior Advocate, Supreme Court

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