Legal Blog: Contemptuous Acts Against Judicial Officers : The Law

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Contemptuous Acts Against Judicial Officers : The Law

Justice Dr. BS Chauhan
Supreme Court of India
Justice Dr. B.S. Chauhan and Justice Swatanter Kumar of the Supreme Court of India, in Vishram Singh Raghubanshi v. State of UP, have discussed the law relating to the contempt of court vis-a-vis misbehavior / violent behavior against judicial officers. The judgment also discusses the circumstances in which an apology can be accepted by the court for such offences / misdemeanors. The relevant extracts of the judgment are as under;

11. It is settled principles of law that it is the seriousness of the irresponsible acts of the contemnor and degree of harm caused to the administration of justice, which would decisively determine whether the matter should be tried as a criminal contempt or not. (Vide: The Aligarh Municipal Board & Ors. v. Ekka Tonga Mazdoor Union & Ors., AIR 1970 SC 1767).

12. The court has to examine whether the wrong is done to the judge personally or it is done to the public. The act will be an injury to the public if it tends to create an apprehension in the minds of the people regarding the integrity, ability or fairness of the judge or to deter actual and prospective litigants from placing complete reliance upon the court's administration of justice or if it is likely to cause embarrassment in the mind of the judge himself in the discharge of his judicial duties. (See: Brahma Prakash Sharma & Ors. v. The State of U.P., AIR 1954 SC 10; and Perspective Publications (P.) Ltd. & Anr. v. The State of Maharashtra, AIR 1971 SC 221).

13. In the case of Delhi Judicial Service Association v. State of Gujarat & Ors., AIR 1991 SC 2176, this Court held that the power to punish for contempt is vested in the judges not for their personal protection only, but for the protection of public justice, whose interest requires that decency and decorum is preserved in courts of justice. Those who have to discharge duty in a Court of Justice are protected by the law, and shielded in the discharge of their duties; any deliberate interference with the discharge of such duties either in court or outside the court by attacking the presiding officers of the court would amount to criminal contempt and the courts must take serious cognizance of such conduct.

14. In E.M.Sankaran Namboodiripad v. T.Narayanan Nambiar, AIR 1970 SC 2015, this Court observed that contempt of court has various kinds, e.g. insult to Judges; attacks upon them; comment on pending proceedings with a tendency to prejudice fair trial; obstruction to officers of Courts, witnesses or the parties; scandalising the Judges or the courts; conduct of a person which tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or disregard. Such acts bring the court into disrepute or disrespect or which offend its dignity, affront its majesty or challenge its authority. In a given case, such a conduct be committed in respect of the whole of the judiciary or judicial system;

The court rejected the argument that in particular circumstances conduct of the alleged contemnor may be protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution i.e. right to freedom of speech and expression, observing that the words of the second clause, of the same provision bring any existing law into operation, thus provisions of the Act 1971 would come into play and each case is to be examined on its own facts and the decision must be reached in the context of what was done or said.

15. Thus, it is apparent that the contempt jurisdiction is to uphold majesty and dignity of the law courts and the image of such majesty in the minds of the public cannot be allowed to be distorted. Any action taken on contempt or punishment enforced is aimed at protection of the freedom of individuals and orderly and equal administration of laws and not for the purpose of providing immunity from criticism to the judges. The superior courts have a duty to protect the reputation of judicial officers of subordinate courts, taking note of the growing tendency of maligning the reputation of judicial officers by unscrupulous practising advocates who either fail to secure desired orders or do not succeed in browbeating for achieving ulterior purpose. Such an issue touches upon the independence of not only the judicial officers but brings the question of protecting the reputation of the Institution as a whole.

16. The dangerous trend of making false allegations against judicial officers and humiliating them requires to be curbed with heavy hands, otherwise the judicial system itself would collapse. The Bench and the Bar have to avoid unwarranted situations on trivial issues that hamper the cause of justice and are in the interest of none; Liberty of free expression is not to be confounded or confused with license to make unfounded allegations against any institution, much less the Judiciary. A lawyer cannot be a mere mouthpiece of his client and cannot associate himself with his client maligning the reputation of judicial officers merely because his client failed to secure the desired order from the said officer. A deliberate attempt to scandalise the court which would shake the confidence of the litigating public in the system, would cause a very serious damage to the Institution of judiciary. An Advocate in a profession should be diligent and his conduct should also be diligent and conform to the requirements of the law by which an Advocate plays a vital role in the preservation of society and justice system. Any violation of the principles of professional ethics by an Advocate is unfortunate and unacceptable. (Vide: O.P. Sharma & Ors. v. High Court of Punjab & Haryana, (2011) 5 SCALE 518).

17. This Court in M.B. Sanghi v. High Court of Punjab & Haryana & Ors., (1991) 3 SCC 600, observed as under: 
The foundation of our system which is based on the independence and impartiality of those who man it will be shaken if disparaging and derogatory remarks are made against the presiding judicial officer with impunity....It is high time that we realise that much cherished judicial independence has to be protected not only from the executive or the legislature but also from those who are an integral part of the system. An independent judiciary is of vital importance to any free society.

18. This leads us to the question as to whether the facts and circumstances referred hereinabove warrant acceptance of apology tendered by the appellant.

The famous humorist P.G. Wodehouse in his work; The Man Upstairs (1914); described apology :
The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.
The apology means a regretful acknowledge or excuse for failure. An explanation offered to a person affected by one's action that no offence was intended, coupled with the expression of regret for any that may have been given. Apology should be unquestionable in sincerity. It should be tempered with a sense of genuine remorse and repentance, and not a calculated strategy to avoid punishment

19. Clause 1 of Section 12 and Explanation attached thereto enables the court to remit the punishment awarded for committing the contempt of court on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court. However, an apology should not be rejected merely on the ground that it is qualified or tempered at a belated stage if the accused makes it bona fide. There can be cases where the wisdom of rendering an apology dawns only at a later stage.

20. Undoubtedly, an apology cannot be a defence, a justification, or an appropriate punishment for an act which is in contempt of court. An apology can be accepted in case the conduct for which the apology is given is such that it can be ignored without compromising the dignity of the court;, or it is intended to be the evidence of real contrition. It should be sincere. Apology cannot be accepted in case it is hollow; there is no remorse; no regret; no repentance, or if it is only a device to escape the rigour of the law. Such an apology can merely be termed as paper apology.

21. In Re: Bal Thackeray, Editor Samna, (1998) 8 SCC 660, this Court accepted the apology tendered by the contemnor as the Court came to conclusion that apology was unconditional and it gave an expression of regret and realisation that mistake was genuine.

22. In L.D. Jaikwal v. State of U.P., AIR 1984 SC 1374, the court noted that it cannot subscribe to the 'slap-say sorry- and forget' school of thought in administration of contempt jurisprudence. Saying 'sorry' does not make the slapper poorer.

(See also: T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Ashok Khot & Anr., AIR 2006 SC 2007)

So an apology should not be paper apology and expression of sorrow should come from the heart and not from the pen; for it is one thing to 'say' sorry-it is another to 'feel' sorry.

23. An apology for criminal contempt of court must be offered at the earliest since a belated apology hardly shows the contrition which is the essence of the purging of a contempt. However, even if the apology is not belated but the court finds it to be without real contrition and remorse, and finds that it was merely tendered as a weapon of defence, the Court may refuse to accept it. If the apology is offered at the time when the contemnor finds that the court is going to impose punishment, it ceases to be an apology and becomes an act of a cringing coward. (Vide :Mulkh Raj v. The State of Punjab, AIR 1972 SC 1197; The Secretary, Hailakandi Bar Association v. State of Assam & Anr., AIR 1996 SC 1925; C. Elumalai and Ors. v. A.G.L. Irudayaraj and Anr., AIR 2009 SC 2214; and Ranveer Yadav v. State of Bihar, (2010) 11 SCC 493).

24. In Debabrata Bandopadhyay & Ors. v. The State of West Bengal & Anr., AIR 1969 SC 189, this Court while dealing with a similar issue observed as under:
Of course, an apology must be offered and that too clearly and at the earliest opportunity. A person who offers a belated apology runs the risk that it may not be accepted for such an apology hardly shows the contrition which is the essence of the purging of a contempt. However, a man may have the courage of his convictions and may stake his on proving that he is not in contempt and may take the risk. In the present case the appellants ran the gauntlet of such risk and may be said to have fairly succeeded.

25. This Court has clearly laid down that apology tendered is not to be accepted as a matter of course and the Court is not bound to accept the same. The court is competent to reject the apology and impose the punishment recording reasons for the same. The use of insulting language does not absolve the contemnor on any count whatsoever. If the words are calculated and clearly intended to cause any insult, an apology if tendered and lack penitence, regret or contrition, does not deserve to be accepted. (Vide: Shri Baradakanta Mishra v. Registrar of Orissa High Court & Anr., AIR 1974 SC 710; The Bar Council of Maharashtra v. M.V. Dabholkar etc., AIR 1976 SC 242; Asharam M. Jain v. A.T. Gupta & Ors., AIR 1983 SC 1151; Mohd. Zahir Khan v. Vijai Singh & Ors., AIR 1992 SC 642; In Re: Sanjiv Datta, (1995) 3 SCC 619; and Patel Rajnikant Dhulabhai & Ors. v. Patel Chandrakant Dhulabhai & Ors., AIR 2008 SC 3016).

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