‘Apprehension of bias’: HC on choose conduct in baby custody case
The Delhi High Court has set aside three orders passed by a family court in a child custody case after taking note of the conduct of the judge, who had shared his personal contact number with the parties and met one of them in the chambers. The court asked the principal judge of the family court of Southeast district to take over the case.
Observing that it had no doubt about the integrity, neutrality, and judicial independence of the judge, a High Court single bench said that his conduct has however given a cause of ‘reasonable apprehension of bias’.
“The judges have to remind themselves time and again that each conduct is observed and noted by the litigants and therefore, knowingly or unknowingly they may not act in any manner which gives rise to even slightest of doubt in the minds of the litigants and lawyers, said Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma.
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The court said the orders passed on August 21 and December 22, 2021, as well as on March 4 this year are liable to be set aside in the interest of justice, and for the purpose of restoring faith of both the parties in the system of interest of justice.
The mother of the child, before the High Court, had challenged the order that restrained her from taking her daughter from Delhi and sought transfer of the case to a different court of Southeast district. Later, she also appealed against the final decision of the family court in the guardianship petition.
The family court on March 4 had granted visitation rights to the father on every Wednesday and Friday, and overnight stay of the minor on every second and fourth Saturday. The family court also passed directions with regard to vacations, long holidays, and school functions of the child, who is aged less than three years.
In the petition before the High Court, the mother alleged that the arrangement created by the lower court solely focuses on the rights of the father and his family and ignores the comforts of the child.
She also told the court that the family court judge had shared his personal mobile number with the parties during the proceedings, and the father of the child met the judge unilaterally in his chamber. Justice Sharma observed that it was not advisable for the judge to have done so.
“It is a settled proposition that justice must not only be done but must also appear to have been done. The conduct of the judge while conducting the judicial proceedings should be above board,” said the bench.
The bench also modified the interim arrangement of visitation rights of the father.
“The principal judge, Family Court is requested to decide the said guardianship petition as expeditiously as possible, preferably within four weeks. Learned Principal Judge, Family Court, may also take assistance of the Child Counselor and interact with the child before deciding the visitation rights,” said the bench.