Supreme Court rebukes sacked IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt for forum shopping, bench hunting

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In a strong rebuke to Gujarat's sacked IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, the Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected his plea for recusal of a judge from hearing a matter concerning his conviction and sentence of life term in custodial death case, after finding that it was an attempt made with "mala fide" intention to indulge in "forum shopping" and "bench hunting".

A bench of Justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar pointed out earlier the bench headed by one of the judges (Justice Shah) heard the special leave petition in a case relating to the very same FIR and filed by the very same petitioner and at that point of time, no such objection was raised and no such prayer was made. 

It is also required to be noted that even when the present special leave petition was notified and taken up on a number of times, the letter was recusal was not pressed, it said.

"When the special leave petition is taken up for further hearing and actually being heard, the letter (for recusal) is pressed into service, which is nothing but an attempt on the part of the petitioner to avoid the Bench, which is required to be deprecated," the bench said. 

"We are of the opinion that the request of recusal is nothing but an attempt to indulge in forum shopping and bench hunting and to avoid the bench with mala fide intention," the bench added.

Senior advocate Devadatt Kamat, appearing for Bhatt, sought recusal of Justice Shah on the ground, while deciding one matter before the High Court in the year 2011 arising out of the same FIR, the court made stricture against the conduct of the petitioner on the delaying tactics adopted by him. 

"Earlier, merely because some proceedings might have been heard by one of us before the High Court in connection with the present matter and/or proceedings and some observations might have been made against the petitioner on the delaying tactics, cannot be a ground to accede to the request made by the petitioner," the bench said.

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, appearing on behalf of the Gujarat government as well as senior counsel A N S Nadkarni, for the original complainant vehemently opposed the plea, saying that the prayer is nothing but an attempt to abuse the process of law 

They said earlier the very petitioner when approached this court in the matter arising out of the same FIR pertaining to the order challenging the refusal of the High Court to suspend the sentence, no such plea was made.

Bhatt has been sentenced to life term by a Jamnagar court after being held guilty on June 20, 2019 in a three-decade old custodial death case. 

The court also dismissed a special leave petition against the HC's order related to deposition of three doctors in the case.

"It is observed that the High Court to finally decide and dispose of the appeal strictly in accordance with law and on merits and on re-appreciation of the entire evidence on record which were considered by the trial Court and without in any way influenced by any of the observations made by the High Court in the impugned order so far as the cause of death is concerned and any observations made by the High Court in the impugned order shall be confined to deciding the application under Section 391 Criminal Procedure Code Only," the bench said.

Case Title: Sanjiv Kumar Bhatt Vs State of Gujarat

Statute: CRPC