Members of the legal fraternity were stunned today by a remark of a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice DY Chandrachud, who seemed to have denigrated a lower court. LawBeat, a Twitter handle that specialises in reporting court cases, quoted the judge as saying, “The dignity of the #SupremeCourt has to be maintained. We are not some Tis Hazari court. You make a statement before the court and you play with us? When will you comply?”
There were others who thought the remark was intemperate. The following are tweets by a few other lawyers.
There was a context to what Justice Chandrachud said, of course.
The Supreme Court today reprimanded GainBitcoin scam-accused Amit Bhardwaj for not conforming to the direction to disclose the username and password of cryptocurrency wallets to the Enforcement Directorate (ED). “The dignity of the Supreme Court has to be maintained. We are not some Tis Hazari Court Court“, Justices DY Chandrachud, of the bench that also comprised Justice Surya Kant, told the counsel of the accused.
“When we recorded your statement you have some responsibility. You will have to give the same and you can’t play with the court. We had recorded in our last order. We will have to dismiss it for non-compliance. Otherwise, you think that the Supreme Court is a district court where you can play all the games”, the bench said.
On 28 March, the Supreme Court had asked Bhardwaj to share with the ED the usernames and passwords of the cryptocurrency wallet to get interim protection. Depending on Bhardwaj making full disclosure, the apex court had directed for a continuation of the interim protection that was granted to Bhardwaj. The highest court issued directions also to the additional solicitor-general (ASG), Aishwarya Bhati, who appeared for the ED, to file an updated status report on the next date of hearing.
The ASG submitted that Bharadwaj had not been cooperating with the authority by making full disclosure of the usernames and passwords of the cryptocurrency wallet. Pune Police had done a full seizure of the crypto wallets and that all the material was lying with them, the ASG said. “We have communicated with the police too. The police in Pune have intimated that the petitioner never appeared before the police at any point of time and he never placed any record,” she said.
Urging the bench to dismiss Bhardwaj’s writ in which he had sought to get the case against him quashed, the ASG contended that, “Bitcoin fraud is not through normal banking channels. The wallets are with the family members. Here proceedings are under PMLA, IPC. Bitcoins are taxable as an asset class. It’s a Ponzi scheme. Your lordships may dismiss the writ by way of interim orders which they got in 2019.”
“Strongly deprecating Bharadwaj’s conduct, Justice Chandrachud observed, “When we recorded your statement you have some responsibility. You will have to give the same and you can’t play with the court. We had recorded in our last order. We will have to dismiss it for non-compliance. Otherwise, you think that the Supreme Court is a district court where you can play all the games,” remarked the judge.
On Senior Advocate Siddhartha Dave’s submission that Bhardwaj was willing to give the passwords in presence of his lawyer, Justice Chandrachud said, “Mr Dave, your client knows everything otherwise the investigation cannot be completed. What is this that “I want the lawyer for giving the password?” First, comply with the order. You don’t need hardware and software for the password. Except (for) the most relevant thing, you haven’t submitted.”
Senior Advocate Siddhartha Dave further submitted that the police in Pune wanted information about three wallets. He argued that officers of the said police department had changed the password of two crypto wallets and had transferred 1200 bitcoins.
To corroborate his contention, Dave said, “ED doesn’t understand the transaction. Pune Police understands. It’s not Paytm, these are blockchains. That is the surprising part — there are three wallets; one had the entire information. For three wallets they wanted information. For two, they have changed the passwords and they have transferred 1200 bitcoins and 1 passwords, I have disclosed everything.”
“Today, tomorrow, whichever day, I will disclose it and those 2 passwords are with Pune Police,” Dave further submitted.
On ASG’s contention that nothing had been given, Justice Chandrachud said, “Whatever is in your possession, you give them.”
“It’s not that they have disclosed everything. Cryptic keys are with the customers. You are compelling them to make a confession statement,” remarked Justice Kant.
“You must give the passwords. The dignity of the Supreme Court has to be maintained. We are not some Tis Hazari court. This is absolutely unheard of. You must comply with the statement. First, let them tell us. Sit with them tomorrow, tell them everything,” Justice Chandrachud said.
While the bench asked Bhardwaj to disclose the information to the ED tomorrow, Justice Kant suggested the authorities prepare a questionnaire by listing down the information which it wanted from Bhardwaj. “You will have to jot down what information you want them to ask. Just prepare a questionnaire,” remarked Justice Kant.
“Give us the questionnaire and show us too. We don’t want the same course to be followed. I am telling you,” added Justice Chandrachud.