Looking to the Supreme Court(TheHindu,Law)

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The Special Leave Petition filed by the Karnataka government in the Supreme Court against the acquittal of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is not just the appeal of an aggrieved party on merits. It is also a commentary on the quality of the High Court verdict in the ‘disproportionate assets’ case. Apart from the undoubted public interest in the outcome of a case that will decide the fortunes of a prominent political leader, the appeal has brought the focus on how exactly courts deal with politically sensitive cases. The crux of the Karnataka government’s contention is this: if the trial verdict of Special Judge John Michael D’Cunha was noted for its elaborate evaluation of the evidence and the reasoning behind his conclusions, the appellate judge, Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy’s order overturning it is ‘cryptic,’ ‘lacking in reasoning’ and ‘illogical’. Especially requiring a second look are the High Court’s reliance on the ‘less-than-10-per-cent’ theory that allows a public servant to hold unexplained assets up to 10 per cent in excess of what she can account for. The points of divergence between the trial court verdict and the High Court’s judgment are now well-known. The divergence is of such magnitude that every reasonable person would favour an authoritative pronouncement from the highest court on these aspects of the case. Karnataka has sought to focus on what many see as flaws in the High Court order, not least in importance being some glaring mathematical errors.

It cannot be forgotten that when a public servant is charged with possessing assets disproportionate to her known sources of income and which she is unable to explain satisfactorily, the court must strictly go by the established quantum of wealth possessed, the expenditure incurred during a given period in office and the income known to have been received in the same period. This basically requires flawless computation and, where precise figures are unavailable, an objective means to evaluate the value of the assets. Any failure in making a precise computation will naturally result in a miscarriage of justice. By using different means, the prosecution, the defence and the two courts have so far arrived at different figures on income, expenditure and the consequent quantum of ‘disproportionate assets’. This fact also contributes to the need for a full re-examination. As for the political context, the appeal has been filed at a time when Ms. Jayalalithaa is contesting a by-election that will send her back to the Legislative Assembly. Karnataka has sought interim relief by way of a stay of the High Court judgment; if granted, this may have the effect of restoring Ms. Jayalalithaa’s disqualification from being a legislator. The stage is set for the last round of this 18-year-long legal battle. Ordinary citizens look to the Supreme Court for an authoritative pronouncement on this crucial matter of defining the dos and don’ts for persons in high public office.

Keywords: Jayalalithaa, disproportionate assets case, Jayalalithaa acquittal, Karnataka government

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