New Delhi: Justice S. Muralidhar of the Delhi high court, whose transfer to the Punjab and Haryana high court was questioned and decried by the court’s bar association and a number of legal luminaries, was given a moving farewell in the court premises on March 5. Speakers had tall praise for him, with some even comparing him to the Kohinoor diamond, for the rare deftness with which he handled various issues.
The farewell was conducted in the atrium of the Delhi high court building. The judges sat on a dais and on round tables placed in front of it. Senior lawyers were seated around. A number of lawyers stood behind them, as well as on the balconies of the floors above.
Lawyers lining up for Justice Muralidhar’s farewell at the Delhi high court.
— Apoorva Mandhani (@MandhaniApoorva) March 5, 2020
In his remarks, Chief Justice D.N. Patel spoke highly of Justice Muralidhar.
“We are losing a most eminent judge who can discuss any topic of law and decide any type of matter,” he said.
Justice Muralidhar’s association with the bar and bench in New Delhi is 58 years old. Just three years after he began his practice in Chennai in 1984, he had decided to move to the national capital.
His transfer had come as a surprise. It was on February 12 that the Supreme Court collegium took the decision. The Bar Association had reacted strongly, insisting that he was the third most senior judge in Delhi and thus should have ideally been sent out, if at all, as a chief justice. The government insisted that the transfer was routine.
As soon as the collegium’s decision had become known on February 19, the HC Bar Association had expressed its “shock, dismay and outrage” at it, saying Justice Muralidhar was “one of the finest judges to have adorned the Bench”.
The Delhi High Court Bar Association organised a farewell high tea for Justice Dr. Muralidhar on his transfer to P&H HC. The gathering was attended by multiple lawyers. pic.twitter.com/ZDpZC29qQf
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) March 5, 2020
It had also charged that “such transfers are not only detrimental to our noble institution, but also tend to erode and dislodge the faith of the common litigant in the justice dispensation system. Such transfers also impede free and fair delivery of justice by the Hon’ble Bench.”
The following day, on February 20, the Bar had also observed a day’s strike. Only urgent work was conducted that day.
Stance on hate speech
A few days later when riots broke out in parts of north east Delhi on February 24, a bench of Justices Muralidhar and Talwant Singh had at around 12.30 am on February 26 taken up for urgent hearing a plea by noted social activist Harsh Mander on the violence. He had taken up two more pleas related to the violence that day.
During the hearings, Justice Muralidhar had pulled up the Delhi police and solicitor general Tushar Mehta for not following the Lalita Kumari guidelines on registering an FIR when complaints were brought to it about inflammatory speeches made by BJP leaders Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Varma and others. These guidelines mandate the registering of an FIR if a cognisable offence is disclosed, or else call for a time-bound inquiry.
Later that same day, the government order on Justice Muralidhar’s transfer to the Punjab and Haryana high court was issued. Its timing was questioned.
During the farewell today glowing tributes were paid to Justice Muralidhar by members of the Bar. Its secretary, Abhijat, even equated him to Kohinoor, saying, “The Kohinoor of the high court will be going a few 100 km away.”
Justice Muralidhar was very measured yet precise in his comments. “When justice has to triumph, it will triumph. Be with the truth, justice will be done,” he said.
He also tried to keep the atmosphere light with various anecdotes. For one, he commented that it was cricket and not law that was his first love. “I was not meant to do law. I used to play cricket with the son of a lawyer and I used to leave my cricket bag in his chambers,” he reminisced.
Then, he had everyone in splits when he recalled a recent interaction with a lawyer. “Last week, a young lawyer came and asked me, ‘Sir, do you dye?’ I couldn’t let go of an opportunity. I said everybody has to, one day or the other…right now I am ready to take charge at the Punjab and Haryana high court,” he laughed.