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The decision of the Supreme Court Collegium to transfer Delhi high court judge, justice S Muralidhar, to the Punjab & Haryana high court was condemned by the legal community on Wednesday, with the Delhi High Court Bar Association (DHCBA) calling for a complete abstention from work on Thursday in a mark of protest.

The executive committee of the DHCBA passed a resolution on Wednesday in an urgent meeting convened at 3pm after the recommendation of the Collegium was out in the public domain.

Although the decision to transfer justice Muralidhar was taken by the Collegium on February 12, it was published on the website of the Supreme Court only a week later.

Usually, senior high court judges are transferred from their parent high court only to take

over as chief justice of another high court. Transfer of a high court judge to another high court as a puisne judge (judge who is not a chief justice) is many times viewed as a punishment transfer.

“The Delhi High Court Bar Association also resolves to request its members to abstain from work tomorrow, i.e, February 20 as a token of protest as the said transfer is the rarest of rare case, the majesty of our revered institution is at stake”, the DHCBA resolution said.

The bar association expressed “shock, dismay and outrage” at the move, stating that such transfers were not only detrimental to the institution but also tend to erode the faith of the common litigant in the justice dispensation system.

The DHCBA expressed hope that the collegium would revisit the issue and recall the move to transfer justice Muralidhar.

The Bar Council of Delhi (BCD) also moved to criticise the collegium’s decision and passed a resolution in this regard.

“The entire bar and the legal community are quite astonished at the transfer of Justice Muralidhar which is also a step to interfere into the independence of judiciary. The Bar Council of Delhi has also passed a resolution condemning the recommendation of the collegiums,” BCD chairperson KC Mittal told HT.

There has been no call from the district court bar associations in the national capital to abstain from work and the lower courts are expected to function normally on Thursday.

Justice Muralidhar started his law practice in 1984 in Chennai before shifting base to Delhi in 1987. He was appointed a judge of Delhi high court in May 2006 where he has served since then.

He is presently the third senior-most judge in the high court after chief justice DN Patel and justice GS Sistani.

Justice Sistani is due to retire on March 11 when justice Muralidhar will become the second senior most judge after the chief justice.

Justice Muralidhar has passed crucial judgments in sensitive matters. He was part of the bench which had, in 2009, decriminalized homosexuality by striking down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. This judgment was later overruled by the Supreme Court in 2013 before the top court eventually struck down the provision in September 2018 in another case.

He was also part of the 2010 ruling that favoured disclosure of the number of Supreme Court judges who declared their assets under the Right to Information (RTI) law.

In October 2018, justice Muralidhar headed the bench which sentenced 16 officials of the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary to life imprisonment for the murder of Muslim men in Hashimpura locality of Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut in 1987.

“This was a targeted killing by the armed forces. Members of the minority community were killed and their families had to wait 31 years for justice,” he had held.

In December 2018, he had authored a scathing judgment convicting Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case and sentencing him to life imprisonment.

A bench headed by him had, in March 2018 granted interim relief to Congress MP Karti Chidambaram in the INX Media case and in October 2018 to activist Gautam Navlakha in the Bhima-Koregaon caste clash case.

Later, a contempt plea was initiated by the Delhi high court against economic analyst and chartered accountant, S Gurumurthy for his comments on social media alleging bias on the part of justice Muralidhar in releasing Navlakha. Gurumurthy had apologised for his remarks and the case was closed.