Midnight knocks at the Supreme Court

The recommendation to elevate Justice Joseph as Supreme Court was sent back by the Centre What are the other cases where the Supreme Court opened its doors post midnight for hearings?

At 1:45 in the morning on Thursday, the Supreme Court of India turned down a petition challenging Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala’s decision to invite the BJP to form the government. The petition was aimed at stopping BJP leader B.S. Yeddyuarappa’s swearing-in ceremony on Thursday morning but was declined by the apex court in a historic hearing post mid-night. However, this was not the first time that a court has been convened for a hearing at such odd hours. Previously, the apex court has come into session in the middle of the night in four different cases.

Yakub Memon

In the midnight of July 2015, only three hours before 1993 Mumbai Blasts accused Yakub Memon was to be executed, his lawyers Anand Grover and Yug Mohit Chaudhary met Chief Justice of India, H.L. Dutta. In a dramatic turn of events, for the first time in history, the Supreme Court was convened inside the court premises post midnight to hear a final plea. The session lasted for 90 minutes—from 3:20am to 4:50am—in court number 4 where the judges reviewed the final petition after President Pranab Mukerjee had rejected a 14-page mercy petition filed by Memon on July 29th.

The plea was rejected and Yakub Memon was executed on 30th of July, 2015. Even though the verdict was opposed by numerous human rights activists, the fact that the Supreme Court was available at such an odd hour was greatly appreciated by the public and media. Yakub Memon’s case was the first time that the SC was convened within the court premises during midnight. But hearings have been held at three other occasions at the residence of senior justices even after court hours.

Lalit Mohan Thapar and Shyam Sunder Lal

On the September 5, 1986, a bench of the Supreme Court sat late into the night to provide bail for Lalit Mohan Thapar and Shyam Sunder Lal. The two industrialists were convicted in their company’s violation of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) but where granted bail in an emergency session at Justice E.S. Vekataramiah’s residence. This, however, attracted a lot of criticism from the public on grounds of double standards for court proceedings and petition regarding bails for socially privileged and what was described as “small men”. The bail had freed L.M. Thapar from criminal charges, but two years later, the Directorate of Enforcement slammed a fine of Rs 26.5 lakhs on his company.

Maganlal Barela

On 7th August 2013, the Supreme Court suspended the execution of Maganlal Barela, who was convicted for beheading his five daughters. Colin Gonsalves, a senior counsel had approached the chief justice, late in the night, at his residence. The then chief justice, P. Sathasivam, issued an interim order of stay of execution at 11:30pm. The fax from the Supreme Court reached the jail authorities five hours before the execution and Barela escaped the gallows thanks to the late night apex court hearing.

Surinder Koli

In 2014, a similar hearing was held two hours before the execution of Surinder Koli, the prime accused in the Nithari case. Right before midnight on September 7, 2014, Koli’s lawyers, led by Senior Advocate Indira Jaising appealed for a re-hearing of his review petition before the bench of Justices H.L. Dattu and Anil R. A previous five-judge constitution bench judgement on September 2, 2014 had stated that review petitions had to be held in open court by a three-judge bench as it was a matter of life and death. At 1:40am on September 8, the court issued a stay order and the execution was postponed to the September 12. This was further postponed to 29th and later commuted to life sentence. The legal proceedings for Koli is currently underway.

These midnight hearings have not only reassured the public’s faith in the judiciary but also proved that the Supreme Court of India has never let time or fixed court hours hinder it from delivering justice.