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New Delhi: ‘Supreme but not Infallible’ was the title of a collection of essays in honour of the Supreme Court.

Former apex court judge Markandey Katju borrowed the phrase to open his arguments on Friday in a case seeking a review of the court’s verdict in the 2011 rape and murder of a woman in Kerala.

An hour later, a three-judge bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi, Prafulla C. Pant and U.U. Lalit dismissed three review petitions filed against the court’s verdict in the case.

In doing so, the court stood by the acquittal of the lone accused, Govindaswamy, of murder charges and convicting him of only rape. In doing so, the court also commuted the death penalty awarded to him to life imprisonment.

The case, which should have been the main event, was sidelined with the court issuing a notice of contempt to Katju for his remarks against the judges, criticizing them for their ruling in the case.

“The assault is on the judges and not on the judgement," the court said in its order, only minutes after thanking Katju for ‘assisting the court’ in the review.

Last month, the same bench had invited Katju to appear personally in court and participate in proceedings after the latter took to his personal blog Satyam Bruyat to criticise the court’s verdict. He said that the court relied on hearsay evidence to acquit Govindaswamy.

Accepting the notice for contempt of court, Katju said that he was not scared. “Such threats don’t scare me. Do what you want; this is a free country," he said.

Following this, the judges asked Katju to be escorted out of the court amid protests from lawyers for the unparalleled treatment extended to one of the fraternity.

“My sense is that Katju had this coming since his criticism had moved from judgements to judges themselves. His stature of having held a constitutional post as a supreme court judge must be kept in mind when we examine his remarks," said Alok Prasanna Kumar, senior resident fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

“Having said that neither the court nor Katju comes out better from this episode," he added.

It is unprecedented for a former judge of the apex court to be served a notice of contempt.

In September, a committee appointed by the apex court for overseeing cricket administration reforms had moved a contempt plea against Katju, taking strong exception to his stinging criticism for “exercising excessive jurisdiction".

Last year, the court reserved verdict in a case after discussing whether it befits a former Supreme Court judge to comment on issues callously. The court was hearing Katju’s plea seeking the quashing of parliamentary condemning his comments that Mahatma Gandhi was a British agent and Subhash Chandra Bose a Japanese agent.

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