Contempt of court

This article is written by Shreya Shukla pursuing B.A. L.L.B. from Institute of Law Nirma University. (ILNU) This article discusses the case analysis of the State of Maharashtra v RJ Mehta and Ors. 1984 (2) Bom CR 122.          

Introduction 

The Contempt of Court Act gives power to the court to punish whosoever does its contempt. This concept was initially developed in Britain which got spread through colonialism to protect the authority and legitimacy of the Judiciary.

Till 1926 Indian Courts had no statutory law of contempt. It was only after the government enacted the Contempt of Courts Act XII of 1926, whereby the Courts were given the power to punish for “Contempt of Courts”.

Considering the present status quo; under Indian law

 Article 129 declares that the Supreme Court is a “court of record” and that it shall have all the powers of the court of record including the power to punish for its contempt.

Further Article 142(2) empowers the Supreme Court to investigate and punish for any contempt of itself i.e. contempt of Supreme Court 

Similarly, Article 215 declares high courts as a “court of record” and that it shall have all the powers of such a court including the powers to punish for contempt for itself.

For a country like India which is based on the concept of rule of law, which requires supremacy of law, the recognition of contempt of court is essential for its judiciary.

Brief facts of the case

The Contempt proceedings were initiated against 4 persons on the posits of the statement released by Respondent No. 1 to the press on the basis of which the English daily “Time of India” published the news item.

Respondent no. 1 in the statements made: alleged that the Industrial and Labour courts were quoting different ‘rates’ for issuing injunctions against any party and for its confirmation and vacation.

Citing an instance, he said that a company was directed to lift its lock-out by the Industrial courts. The company. However, had not allowed the workers to resume, resulting in the union bringing in a contempt application. According to him, the Judge was reported to have been sympathetic to the workers on the first hearing. However, on the next hearing, the judge refused to hear the workers’ Counsel.

Shri S.A.Patil (Member of the industrial court) submitted a report to Bombay High court on the basis of the press release issued by Respondent no. 1, who is the trade union leader who released the statements, Respondent no.2, who is the editor of the “Times of India”, Respondent no.3, who is the resident editor, and Respondent no.4, who is the printer and publisher of the newspaper and the publication thereof amounts to criminal contempt of court and that appropriate action in that respect be taken.

By virtue of which the Bombay High Court has issued notices to all the four respondents to show cause as to why action for a Contempt of Court should not be taken.

Issue 

  1. Why proceedings under Contempt of Court should not be initiated?
  2. Whether tendering an unconditional apology at the beginning of the hearing would be sufficient to drop the proceedings?
  3. Whether the publication of news in a Bona-fide manner constitutes contempt of court?

Rules 

There are some sections of the CONTEMPT OF COURT ACT, 1971, and Other Acts which were referred to and important to the analysis of the case.

SECTION 2(c) of the Contempt of courts Act 

It defines “criminal contempt” as follows:-

“‘Criminal contempt’ means the publication (whether by words spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:

  • Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lower or tends to lower the authority of any court; or 
  • Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceedings; or
  • Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.”

Section 13 of the Contempt of court Act

“Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, no Court shall impose a sentence under this act for the Contempt of court unless it is satisfied that the contempt is of such a nature that it substantially interferes, or tends substantially to interfere with the due course of justice.”

Maharashtra Recognition of Trade Unions and Prevention of Unfair Labour Practices Act,1971. 

Section 48

This section deals with contempt of Industrial and Labour courts 

Its Sub-section (5) provides that a person shall be deemed to be guilty of contempt of Court if he commits any act or publishes any writing which is calculated to improperly influence the Industrial Court or to bring such Court or a member or a judge thereof into disrepute or contempt or to interfere with the lawful process of any such court.

In case of such contempt Industrial Court is required to make a report to the High Court 

Sub-section (3) provides that the High Court shall deal with such contempt as if it were contempt of itself.

Arguments by the respondent’s side 

Respondent no. 1 

Mr. RJ.MEHTA (TRADE UNION LEADER)

The learned counsel, Shri Rane, submitted that the unconditional apology tendered by Respondent No.1 in the affidavit, which expresses his regrets about the mentioned statements, should be accepted. He contended that all the surrounding and attendant circumstances should be taken into account while initiating contempt proceedings or while deciding upon the punishment. He further stated that Respondent no. 1 was considerably disturbed by some decisions of the Industrial Court which made him feel that everything was not all right in the Industrial and Labour Courts and he made the statement so that the matter may be investigated by the High Court.

Respondent no. 2, 3, and 4

The learned counsel, Mr. Vakil, contended that since the object of the statement of Respondent No.1 was to have a Judge of the High Court investigate the matter thus they found it bona fide to publish the summary of the statement as a news item. These respondents further contended that the publication of news items was not made with any intention to scandalize or tend to scandalize the Industrial court.

Mr.Vakil submitted that their respondents have no hesitation in expressing regrets of the publication if this court would come to a conclusion that such publication constitutes contempt of court.

Arguments by the appellant’s side 

The Advocate General contended that there can be no serious and grave contempt imagined than we are having where such allegations are made that the judgments can be purchased as one is able to purchase articles in the bazaar by offering a price. The statements thus indicate a disregard for all decency. Thus the advocate general submitted that it would be frivolous to say that the statement made by Respondent No.1 does not create an apprehension in the minds of the people about the honesty and integrity of the labour courts.

He negated the argument made by Shri Rane that the statement made was to make sure that an inquiry would be conducted and addressed that it will be too broad of a proposition to contend that gross contempt statement was prefixed just to make an inquiry to be conducted.

He further contended that the mode of publication chosen by respondent No.1 indicates that he intended to give wide publicity.

Analysis 

The whole issue revolves around the question relating to the exercise of power to punish for contempt by the court.

While considering the surrounding circumstances in a case of contempt it is also important to first scrutinize the nature of the contempt that is whether it is a technical or minor one? Is it grave or serious? What would be its impact on society? What would be the extent of impact? Whether the scandalisation and the interference with the administration of justice are normal or serious?

In the present case, even a cursory reading of the statement would show that it is blatant contempt. Sweeping allegations are made that the judgment can be purchased as one is able to purchase articles in the bazaar by offering a price. Such a statement creates an apprehension in the mind of people about the honesty and integrity of the labour courts.

The judgment relied on the respondent in the case of State of Rajasthan v. M.R.Mitruka, 1978 Criminal Law Journal 1440 In that case the respondents wrote a letter to the concerned authorities alleging corruption in the judiciary of Rajasthan. On the contrary in the present case, no such letter or representation was made to the appropriate authority, instead, the respondent has chosen to issue a press release and to send it to the press for wide circulation.

2nd ISSUE:

The other issue which arose in the present case is whether tendering an unconditional apology would be sufficient to drop the contempt proceedings.

 While answering this the court referred to the judgement made by the Supreme court in Ramakrishna Reddy v. the State of Madras and held that “apology is not a weapon of defense forged to purge the guilt under all circumstances nor can it be allowed to operate as a universal panacea” instead an apology could be relevant as to the leniency in quantum of punishment.

The court also referred to the case of Asharam M.Jain v. A.T.Gupta, A.I.R. 1983S.C 1951. In this case, the Supreme Court held that a contumacious disregard of all decencies cannot be wiped off by an apology that is exhibited by the contemner, and the only way by which it could be repaired at once would be by inflicting an appropriate punishment on the contemner which must be to send him jail to atone for his misconduct and thereafter to come out of prison a chastened but a better citizen; the court sentenced him to simple imprisonment for a period of 2 months.

Considering all the mentioned cases and circumstances relevant to this case the Bombay High Court came to a decision that the contempt is of such a nature that it substantially interferes or tends substantially to interfere with the due course of justice.

Thus the court in order to get the interest of justice met sentence respondent no. 1 to suffer imprisonment till the rising of the court and to pay a fine of Rs.5000/-

3rd ISSUE:

The contention brought before the court was that the publishing of the statement previously made by respondent no. 1 would not amount to contempt through the statements made by respondent no. 1 can amount to contempt.

While answering this the court referred to the judgment of Patna High Court in the case of State of Bihar v. Shri Anant Prasad & Another, I.L.R (1975)52 Patna 358. In this case, the newspaper is published as a news item the contents of a certain statement made by another person. That statement constituted contempt and the court held that by publishing such a news item the editor has committed contempt.

Similar observations were also seen in the decision passed by Allahabad High Court in the case of G.H.Verma v. Hargovind Dayal, A.I.R.1978 Allahabad 52.

Thus, considering all the relevant factors the Bombay High Court held that the Respondent 2, 3 and 4 have committed contempt of court. Well it is true that the respondent 2, 3 and 4 should have been a little more cautious in scrutinizing as to whether the statement made by respondent 1 would constitute contempt of court. But at the same time the court feels that there must not be any punishment for absence of care, specifically when they have offered an apology.

Conclusion

The foremost rule in this branch of contempt power is that the court should act with seriousness and severity wherever justice is being jeopardized by a gross and /or unfounded attack on judges, and such act is calculated to obstruct or destroy the judicial process. The Law of contempt is enacted to secure public respect and refund confidence in the judicial process. If such confidence is shaken or broken, the confidence of the common man in the institution of the judiciary and democratic setup is likely to be eroded which, if not checked, is going to be disastrous for the welfare of society itself.

Thus the High Court held Respondent No.1 guilty of contempt of court and was sentenced to suffer simple imprisonment till the rising of the courts and to pay the fine of Rs. 500/- in default, and to suffer simple imprisonment for two weeks. Whereas, Respondents 2, 3 and4 are held guilty of contempt of court. However, they are discharged as contemplated by provision to section 12(1) that they have offered a satisfactory apology to the court.

Respondent no.1 submitted to enable him to file an appeal before the Supreme Court and apply for stay orders.

References 


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