Judges must act fairly and be above suspicion: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has set aside an order of a single judge of the Delhi High Court who had dismissed an appeal against acquittal in a dowry death case although as a sessions judge he had recused himself from the case on personal grounds.

The apex court gave a clean chit to Justice SN Dhingra (since retired) in the matter however and opined a judge "must not only act fairly but must be able to act above suspicion of unfairness and bias."

"It is a well settled law that a person who tries a cause should be able to deal with the matter placed before him objectively, fairly and impartially. No one can act in a judicial capacity if his previous conduct gives ground for believing that he cannot act with an open mind or impartially.

"The broad principle evolved by this court is that a person, trying a cause, must not only act fairly but must be able to act above suspicion of unfairness and bias," a bench of justices HL Dattu and CK Prasad said.

The apex court passed the order while reverting back to the High Court for "fresh disposal" of the appeal by Narinder Singh Arora, challenging the dismissal of his revision petition by Justice Dhingra on September 1, 2010, although the same judge had recused when the matter came up before him during the trial in 2003.

Arora had challenged the acquittal of the accused in a case relating to harassment and murder of a woman allegedly for dowry. After Dhingra as a sessions judge had recused, another took up the matter and acquitted the accused.

However, when the revision petition was filed in the high court, the matter had come up for hearing before Justice Dhingra who dismissed the revision petition.

"It is apparent that the fact of earlier recusal of the case at the trial by learned Shri Justice SN Dhingra himself was not brought to his notice in the revision petition before the High Court by either of the parties to the case.

"Therefore, Shri Justice SN Dhingra, owing to inadvertence regarding his earlier recusal, has dismissed the revision petition by the impugned judgment.

"In our opinion, the impugned judgment, passed by Shri Justice SN Dhigra subsequent to his recusal at trial stage for personal reasons, is against the principle of natural justice and fair trial," the bench observed.