An upright judge

Print edition : November 14, 2014

John Michael D'Cunha, Special Court Judge.

SPECIAL COURT Judge John Michael D’Cunha, who convicted Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case, will be known as the judge who sent a sitting Chief Minister to prison for the first time in India. His judgment can have far-reaching political ramifications in Tamil Nadu.

Known for his upright and no-nonsense approach, D’Cunha, exasperated at the “adjournments since January 27, 2014, without justifiable cause” in the Jayalalithaa case, imposed on Special Public Prosecutor G. Bhavani Singh in March a fine of “nothing less than one day’s remuneration (Rs.60,000) payable to the SPP as fixed by the government for each hearing, as cost or to permit the accused’s counsel to commence arguments”. In May, he even castigated Jayalalithaa, terming her conduct “highly reprehensible” for what he described as “suppression of material facts and deliberate suggestion of falsehood”.

Taking over the Jayalalithaa case in November 2013 from Judge M.S. Balakrishna, D’Cunha, who is known to be unfazed by any kind of pressure and, according to lawyers, “preferred to meet people in the open court rather than in his chambers”, has been able to deliver a verdict in a case that dragged on for 18 years.

Born into an agriculturist family in Kaikamba (16 kilometres from Mangalore), D’Cunha completed his legal studies from the Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Law College in Mangalore in 1985. He then started independent practice, largely in civil cases, before joining hands with lawyers Amrith Kini, M.P. Noronha and S.K. Ullal in 1992 to set up the law firm Manu Advocates (MANU stands for the first letter of the names of each of them). He left the firm in 1996. After qualifying as a district judge in 2002, he has had assignments as the First Additional District and Sessions Judge, Hubli; Principal District and Sessions Judge, Dharwad and Bangalore Rural; and Registrar (Vigilance) at the Karnataka High Court.

The father of three, D’Cunha has a dislike for unnecessary adjournments. In 2004, as the First Additional District and Sessions Judge, Hubli, he refused to stay the proceedings in a review petition filed by a non-governmental organisation and questioned an application from public prosecutors to withdraw the case against Uma Bharati, now Union Water Resources Minister and formerly Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, and 20 others. The case, which related to the hoisting of the national flag (in 1994) at the controversial Idgah Maidan (Hubli), had already dragged on for 10 years and was pending before the court of the Second Judicial Magistrate, First Class.

Ravi Sharma

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