SC tells Madras HC to place Balaji’s habeas corpus plea before judges

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Madras High Court to place the habeas corpus petition of arrested Tamil Nadu Minister V Senthil Balaji before three judges “at the earliest” in view of a split verdict pronounced earlier in the day. A Bench of justices Surya Kant and Dipankar Datta also told the Madras High Court Chief Justice that Balaji’s petition should be decided by the new bench expeditiously.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Madras High Court division bench of justices J Nisha Banu and D Bharatha Chakravarthy pronounced the split verdict on the habeas corpus petition filed by Balaji’s wife against her husband’s “illegal detention”. The high court bench also directed the registry to place the matter before the Chief Justice for assigning it to a three-judge bench.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Enforcement Directorate, told the top court bench that since a split verdict has been pronounced by the high court, the matter be transferred to the apex court for final adjudication. “My difficulty is that every day there would be tampering of evidence. There is a pure question of law and none of the facts are disputed. Only question is whether a habeas corpus petition can be filed on a judicial remand,” Mehta said.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Balaji, said that after a split verdict by a division bench, the matter was placed before a three-judge bench and opposed Mehta’s request. How can the High Court be bypassed, he asked, adding, “There is a difference of opinion between two judges on an issue and the natural corollary is that it will go to a three-judge bench.” Sibal further said that the court under the present circumstances cannot direct the matter to be brought to the apex court. The bench said it would request the High Court for adjudication of questions of law at the earliest and posted the matter for further hearing on July 24. It added, “This is a question of law. We will decide it and if there is a view of three-judges, it will only help us.”

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