Chennai, Dec 11: The Supreme Court today rejected a plea made by former Tamil Nadu chief minister seeking early hearing of the appeal before the Karnataka High Court in the disproportionate assets case. Her counsel Fali S Nariman informed the court that all the paper work had been filed before the High Court, but did not cite any reason for the urgency to advance the date of hearing.
It was quite a surprising move by the former CM of Tamil Nadu, considering that the matter was anyways coming up for hearing on December 18th. On the last date of hearing the Supreme Court had said that her bail would be cancelled, if she failed to file the paper books by December 18th. However, her legal team ensured that the same was filed before the Karnataka High Court well in advance.
What is the hurry?
There appears to be a teething hurry on part of Jayalalithaa to have the appeal listed soon before the Karnataka High Court and also completed in three months. Nariman was seen giving assurances to the Supreme Court that they would complete all the trial formalities as soon as possible to ensure not only an early date of hearing but also speedy completion of the appeal.
Many analysts believe that the sentence of 4 years granted to her by the Special Court bars her from contesting an election for at least 10 years. Although her sentence has been stayed by the Supreme Court her conviction remains in force which means that she still cannot contest an election.
However, Jayalalithaa and her legal team appear to be extremely confident that the order of the trial court will be set aside as they have valid grounds to challenge it. It appears as though she wants to end this ordeal before the court before 2016 so that she can contest the elections and ride the sympathy wave.
While the Supreme Court is empowered to fix a date for early hearing of an appeal, it can also direct the High Court to complete the appeal in a stipulated period of time. Jaya's legal team has been seeking that the appeal be completed within three months.
There is nothing that prevents the Supreme Court from ordering that the appeal be completed in a stipulated period of time. However if they were to fix an early date of hearing in this case, that means she would be jumping the queue by at least three years.
Before the High Court of Karnataka there are pending appeals of the years 2010 and 2011 which are being heard at the moment. In such an event if the Supreme Court decides to fix an early date of hearing, it would mean by-passing all other pending appeals being heard before the High Court. However once again the powers granted to the Supreme Court empower it to set a date of hearing of its choice.
However, one must also remember that it was the Supreme Court which has time and again observed in several cases that in pending appeals old matters shall be given preference over the newer ones. The Supreme Court had also frowned upon those litigants who sought to jump the queue.
Legal experts say that while a stipulated time to complete the appeal can be given to the High Court, it would however set a bad precedent if it fixes an early date over other pending appeals. There is a change of mood in the country where the people have been taking corruption cases against politicians very seriously. Granting an early date preceding other pending cases would lay down a precedent where other politicians would come forward and seek similar relief.
Jayalalithaa is no doubt in a hurry to get rid of all the legal hurdles before her in a bid to return to power. However the bigger question here is what urgency can she show in an appeal. It is a whole other matter when she said that there was an urgency while seeking bail.
While seeking bail she was in jail and had cited health grounds as the reason for urgency. While the Supreme Court had granted her interim bail, prior to that the Karnataka High Court had quoted the Lalu Prasad Yadav case and said that it took him at least a year before he was granted bail. It defeats the very purpose of the conviction if bail is granted immediately in such cases, the High Court had observed.
However, the Supreme Court took into consideration her health and also the various assurances given by her before granting her bail.
Completing the appeal:
The documents in this case are voluminous in nature. It runs into several thousand pages and unless those documents are all before the High Court the appeal cannot commence. Moreover the Supreme Court would also take the opinion of the prosecution before giving any such direction.
Special Prosecutor in the case, Bhavani Singh says that they are studying the case and preparations are on. If the Supreme Court gives a date and time they are ready, but also adds that it is quite rate that in cases pertaining to the Prevention of Corruption Act time limits are given. In such cases it needs to be proven that there is an urgency since it is an extra ordinary case. However there are such cases pertaining to other politicians as well, Singh also points out.
High Court can seek time:
In other cases where the Supreme Court has fixed a stipulated period of time to complete an appeal and the High Court has not been able to complete the case, it has gone back to the Supreme Court seeking extension. The prosecution does have the right to seek additional time from the Supreme Court provided it cites valid grounds for the delay.
To complete a case of this nature it normally would requires at least 25 hearings spread over a period of three to five months. Once the appeal is completed then orders are reserved by the court and there normally is no specific direction given to the judge to pronounce the order. The judge will need to consider all the arguments advanced by both sides before applying his mind and pronouncing the verdict.
In the almost two decade that this case dragged on before the trial court, on several occasions it has been observed that Jayalalithaa's legal team was deliberating dragging the appeal.
It must not be forgotten that during the pendency of this case, she managed to become Chief Minister of the state twice. These were observations even made by the trial court during the course of hearing. Even before the conviction was read out there was an attempt by her lawyers to seek another date, but the court said that the matter had dragged on for too long and any further adjournments would be setting a bad precedent.
Before the trial court, there were several reasons that were cited to drag the case. The translation of the documents, the accused saying they did not understand English and wanted those reams of documents translated into Tamil had all contributed to the delay. Today the scenario is completely different and the same team which had sought so many adjournments want the appeals to completed in a record time.