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Demibai Gengji Sojpal Vs. Rowji Sojpal - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectContempt of Court
CourtMumbai
Decided On
Case NumberO.C.J. Suit No. 572 of 1935
Judge
Reported in(1937)39BOMLR471
AppellantDemibai Gengji Sojpal;In Re: Cooverji Keshavji Shah
RespondentRowji Sojpal;
Excerpt:
.....civil court. but he cannot proceed in contempt against the author of the libel.;all proceedings in suits pending in a court of justice are privileged. any comment on the subject-matter of the suit and any abuse of the parties or holding them up to ridicule and contempt in the eyes of the public, whilst the suit is pending, are not allowed.;the test is not whether the articles will in fact prejudice the defendants or not, or scare away their witnesses, or lead them to compromise the suit, but to see whether they may have that effect and thereby tend to interfere with the proper course of justice. - - 572 of 1935 against cooverji keshavji shah, the editor, printer and publisher of a weekly newspaper in bombay called the satya prakash and swadesh, to show cause, if any he has, why he..........of the libel. another proposition which has been well established is that all proceedings in suits pending in a court of justice are privileged, and any comment on the subject-matter of the suit, and any abuse of the parties or holding them up to ridicule and contempt in the eyes of the public, whilst the suit is pending, are not allowed. in my opinion it would be simply disastrous for the due and proper administration of justice, if when a suit is still pending investigation in a court of law, that investigation was to be taken out of the hands of the court and practically left to the press. the object of proceedings in contempt is not so much to vindicate the dignity of the court or the person of the judge, as to ensure that every litigant in a court of justice has a fair and.....
Judgment:

B.J. Wadia, J.

1. This is a rule nisi taken out by the defendants in suit No. 572 of 1935 against Cooverji Keshavji Shah, the editor, printer and publisher of a weekly newspaper in Bombay called the Satya Prakash and Swadesh, to show cause, if any he has, why he should not be committed for contempt of Court in having edited, printed and published in his newspaper the four articles set out in the rule, and why he should not be restrained by an order and injunction of this Court from publishing further articles of a like nature in the future.

2. This suit was filed on April 9, 1935, by the plaintiff against the defendants for maintenance and residence out of joint family properties which, she says, are in the possession of the defendants. On the day on which the plaint was filed the plaintiff took out a notice of motion for an order that she should be paid a sum of Rs. 3,000 per month for interim maintenance, and that the defendants should be restrained by injunction of the Court from alienating the properties in their hands. The notice of motion came on for hearing on June 27, 1935, when by consent no order was made for interim maintenance but the suit was expedited. The suit is still pending.

3. The four articles referred to in the rule are dated April, 18, July, 4, and two of December 26, 1935. The first article was published after the suit was filed but before the notice of motion was heard. The remaining three articles were published after the notice of motion was heard. The first article is headed, 'A Widowed Member of a Wealthy Multimillionaire Family'. It is not necessary for me to relate the substance of this article in detail. It has been translated, and the relevant passages in it have also been set out and referred to in the affidavits. In this article the editor expressed his opinion that widows in the community of the defendants, viz., the Cutchi Visa, Oswal caste, seemed to have no alternative left for the assertion of their rights but to go to a Court of law, meaning that there was no hope for the plaintiff to get anything from the defendants except what she could get by a decree or order of the Court. The second article is headed, 'Rao Saheb Raoji Sojpal J.P. thinks that fighting in Court against a helpless widow is creditable on his part'. This implies that in defending a widow's suit defendant No. 1 was acting discreditably, irrespective of whether his defence was good or otherwise. In that article defendants Nos. 1 and 2 have been attacked personally. I do not agree with the editor in his contention that he has criticised them, not in reference to the suit, but as public men, or men of importance in their own community. The third article is headed, 'The Cat is coming out of the Bag'. It is in the form of a letter, and the substance and the tone of the article generally, with its metaphors and comparisons, assume a more serious aspect than the first two articles. The comparison with Aurangzeb and that Emperor's treatment of his brothers, which is known to all students of history, is very unfortunate, because it represents defendants Nos. 1 and 2, who are described as 'the treacherous pair', as treating their deceased brother's widow in the same ruthless manner in which Aurangzeb dealt with his brothers. I do not agree with the defendants in their contention that there is an allegation against them of misappropriating the plaintiff's husband's estate. The mere fact that comment is made on a sum of Rs. 5 as being grossly inadequate for maintenance or even niggardly does not in any way substantiate an allegation of misappropriation. The article, however, openly alleges that defendant No. 2 is more concerned with the welfare of dogs and pigeons than of a widowed member of the family. The last article is headed, 'Intoxication of Wealth'. Defendants Nos. 1 and 2 are described as very rich men, intoxicated by their wealth, so intoxicated as not to care to give to the plaintiff what is her due, considering that her deceased husband belonged to a rich and well-to-do family in the community.

4. These are all the articles with which I am concerned. As I have stated before, I do not wish to go into them in detail, but I agree with counsel for the defendants that there are statements in them which refer to the defendants, not merely as men of importance in their community, but as defendants, and in relation to their defence in the suit. They contend that the articles tend to prejudice them in their defence in the suit, and thereby prejudice a fair trial at the time of the hearing. There are also statements made in those articles which are not correct in all material particulars. The respondent, on the other hand, alleges that he has been working and writing as a social reformer in the interest of the widows of the community for some time past, and that he has been criticising the conduct of defendants Nos. 1 and 2, merely as leading members of their community and not as parties to the suit, and therefore whatever other remedies they may have against him, he is not guilty of contempt of Court.

5. The law on the subject of contempt of Court has been laid down from ancient times, and is to be found in Hailsham's Laws of England, Vol. VII, in the well-known work of Oswald on Contempt, and in several decided cases, which were referred to and mentioned in the argument. It has been laid down in an old case of 1742, The St. James's Evening Post case (1742) 2 Atk. 469, 471, that offences which constitute contempt of Court are of three kinds, viz., those which (1) scandalise the Court, or (2) abuse the parties concerned in causes there, or (3) prejudice mankind against persons before the cause is heard. It has also been laid down that anything which tends to excite prejudice against the parties in litigation while it is pending is contempt of Court. That case has been followed in numerous later decisions, and is reproduced by Oswald in his third edition at p. 91 : see also The William Thomas Shipping Co., In re : H.W. Dillon & Sons, Ld. v. The Company : Sir Robert Thomas, In re [1930] 2 Ch. 368. There is no question here of scandalising the Court. The question is only whether the editor has been guilty of abusing and vilifying the parties to a pending suit in relation to their defence, and thereby prejudicing a fair trial for them at the hearing. The test in such cases is not whether the writings have in fact obstructed or interfered with the administration of justice, or will obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice, but whether they are calculated to do so, or whether it is likely that they will have that effect. The intention of the writer may often be of secondary importance; the question is, what is the effect of the articles, and have they a tendency to obstruct and interfere with the due and proper course of administration of justice? It has been held that a libel on the parties to a suit which does not amount to an interference with the course of administration of justice is a matter in respect of which the aggrieved party can have his remedies elsewhere. He may either prosecute the writer in a criminal Court of law, or he may bring an action for defamation in a civil Court. But he cannot proceed in contempt against the author of the libel. Another proposition which has been well established is that all proceedings in suits pending in a Court of justice are privileged, and any comment on the subject-matter of the suit, and any abuse of the parties or holding them up to ridicule and contempt in the eyes of the public, whilst the suit is pending, are not allowed. In my opinion it would be simply disastrous for the due and proper administration of justice, if when a suit is still pending investigation in a Court of law, that investigation was to be taken out of the hands of the Court and practically left to the press. The object of proceedings in contempt is not so much to vindicate the dignity of the Court or the person of the Judge, as to ensure that every litigant in a Court of justice has a fair and unprejudiced hearing at the trial on the merits of his case.

6. Taking this to be the established law on the subject, I have to consider it in connection with the statements contained in the four articles which are the subject-matter of the rule. The editor is entitled, and has every right to carry on his work of social reform in his journal, and to work in the cause of the uplift of Hindu widows. It is also well-known that in order to reform, the reformer must first educate, and there is no medium through which the work of educating public opinion on an important subject can be better carried on than a well-conducted press. If the editor had merely indulged in the ornate language which he has used, being carried away by his zeal, the Court would have had nothing to say. this Court is not a Court of morals, nor can it adjudicate upon the taste in which articles are written in the press. The only question is whether the writer has not overstepped the limits by publicly attacking parties to a suit who may have a good defence, but whose defence has not yet been heard. Whether the articles will in fact prejudice the defendants or not, or scare away their witnesses, or lead them to compromise the suit, is not the real and proper test in such a case. The Court has to read the articles and see whether the articles may have that effect, and thereby tend to interfere with the proper course of justice. In my opinion the articles have that tendency. I am well aware of the principle that contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal, and that the Court does not commit for contempt unless the offence is of so serious a nature as to render the exercise of the Court's summary jurisdiction necessary in order to prevent interference with the course of justice. Considering the articles as a whole, they do constitute a contempt of the Court, and I must make the rule absolute. I take into consideration the fact that the editor has stated, though half-heartedly, that if the Court thought that he was guilty of contempt, he would be willing to apologise to the Court. That is not the sort of apology which would save him from the consequences of his act, but I still take it into consideration, and in my opinion the requirements of justice will be satisfied if I severely reprimand the editor for the articles that he has written, and warn him against the repetition of such articles in reference to parties to pending suits in the future. I have already made the rule absolute, which imposes upon him an injunction restraining him from writing articles of a like nature in the future, that is, articles abusing parties to pending suits in relation to the subject-matter of those suits. In addition to the injunction I also warn him as to the future conduct of his newspaper in relation to pending1 suits. For the present the Court will only express its sense of displeasure by imposing the injunction upon him, severely reprimanding him for what he has written, and cautioning him for the future. He will also pay the taxed costs of the defendants of the rule as between attorney and client. In my opinion this -was a fit case for the engagement of two counsel, and I certify accordingly.


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