Allahabad High Court Summons Judge Over Alleged Religious Discrimination Against Muslim Lawyers

Allahabad HC summons judge over alleged religious discrimination against Muslim lawyers in Mohammad Idris vs State of UP case.

The Allahabad High Court recently stirred significant legal discussions by summoning a senior judicial officer over allegations of religious discrimination against Muslim lawyers, branding his "observations regarding a particular community" as a case of judicial misconduct [Mohammad Idris vs State of UP].

This development unfolded amidst the trial of a criminal case involving two Muslim clerics, Mohammad Umar Gautam and Mufti Qazi Jahangir Alam Qasmi, alongside others accused of forced religious conversion by the Anti-Terrorist Squad of Uttar Pradesh.

In January, Additional District & Sessions Judge Vivekanand Sharan Tripathi, presiding over the case, appointed amici curiae as additional counsel to assist the Court. This move came after certain Muslim lawyers requested a brief adjournment to attend Friday prayers, a request that the trial judge denied. Consequently, the trial judge ordered that the amici curiae would represent the accused whenever the Muslim lawyers attended prayers.

Justice Shamim Ahmed intervened last month, staying the trial court's orders following an appeal by one of the accused.

In the aftermath of the High Court's intervention, the trial court permitted Muslim lawyers to represent the accused but refrained from deciding on the application for electronic evidence.

In an order dated April 3, the single-judge expressed strong objection to the trial court's conduct, asserting that the judge failed to grasp the gravity of the stay order and proceeded arbitrarily.

"Unless and until the copy of the electronic evidence demanded by the applicant vide his application dated 19.01.2024 under Section 207 CrPC is not provided to the applicant, the trial court ought not to have proceeded with the trial of the case, or must have given some observation in this regard but the trial court is silent," Justice Ahmed observed.

The Court further scrutinized the trial judge's remarks concerning the "non-presence of counsel for the applicant during the trial as they belong to a certain religion..." and the subsequent appointment of amici.

"This shows clear discrimination on the part of the trial court on the basis of religion, which is a clear violation of the fundamental right enshrined in Article 15 of the Constitution of India," the Court remarked.

Observing that any other grounds should have been stated in the trial court's order, the Court emphasized, "It can be clearly inferred that the trial court had passed the order which is directly contrary to the terms of Article 15(1) as violating a specific constitutional prohibition. The learned Judge of the trial court has clearly discriminated one community only on the basis of religion."

The Court also expressed its opinion that a judge engaging in personal misconduct raises questions about their judicial integrity.

"A Judge, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion. The credibility of the judicial system is dependent upon the Judges who man it... If a Judge decides a case for any extraneous reasons then he is not performing his duty in accordance with the law," the Court emphasized.

Continuing its earlier stay order, the Court further restrained the trial court from proceeding with the trial against the petitioner and summoned the judicial officer for an explanation regarding the orders in question.

"This shows judicial misconduct, which breaks down the very fiber of what is necessary for a functional judiciary... Judges must, therefore, be accountable to legal and ethical standards... judicial conduct review must be performed without invading the independence of judicial decision-making," the Court stated concerning the trial judge's comments.

On Monday, Judge Tripathi appeared before the single-judge and tendered an unconditional apology, admitting passing the orders under misconception and pledging caution in the future.

After his counsel sought time to file a personal affidavit, the Court granted him two days and listed the matter for hearing on April 18.

Advocates Mohemmed Amir Naqvi, Abhishek Singh, Ajeet Pratap Singh, and Zia Ul Qayuim represented the petitioner, while Advocate Gaurav Mehrotra represented Judge Vivekanand Sharan Tripathi, and Advocate Shiv Nath Tilhari represented the State.