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Matter of the Contempt of Court Vs. D.B. Vohra and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectContempt of Court
CourtDelhi High Court
Decided On
Case NumberCriminal Original Appeal No. 88 of 1973
Judge
Reported inILR1974Delhi466
ActsContempt of Court Act, 1971 - Sections 10 and 15
AppellantMatter of the Contempt of Court
RespondentD.B. Vohra and ors.
Advocates: D.B. Vohra,; B.B. Kishore,; B.D. Gupta,;
Cases ReferredState of Madhya Pradesh v. Revashankar
Excerpt:
.....the high court has jurisdiction to initiate contempt proceedings on its own motion in respect of criminal contempt of a subordinate court in view of the preamble read with section 15(2) of the contempt of courts act, 1971. the second is whether the high court is empowered to punish for contempt of a subordinate court when the 'offensive matter' is cognizable and punishable as an offence under the provisions of the indian penal code. the reader went to the room of the ahlmad to bring the file and then comes the offensive part which is stated by the subordinate judge in his statement in these words: but it would not be correct to say that the high court's jurisdiction is excluded even in cases where the act complained of, which is alleged to constitute contempt, is otherwise an offence..........with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct the administration of justice in any other manner-'the alleged contempt with which we are concerned is criminal contempt as distinguished from civil contempt. (5) section 14 of the 1971 act prescribes the procedure where the contempt is in the presence or hearing of the supreme court or the high court. we are not concerned with this section. section 15 provides for cognizance of criminal contempt in other cases. it says :- '(1)in the case of a criminal contempt, other than a contempt referred to in section 14, the supreme court or the high court may take action on its own motion or on a motion made by - (a) the advocate-general, or (b) any other person, with the consent in writing of the advocate general. (2) in the case of any criminal.....
Judgment:

S.N. Andley, C.J.

(1) Certain incidents happened in the Court of Mr. Ravi Kumar, Subordinate Judge 1st Class, Delhi, on August 17, 1973 involving his reader (Chander Mohan), D. B, Vohra, Bishan Dayal Gupta, Advocates and their client, Vinod Sethi. Publicity was given to these incidents in the daily newspapers whereupon, to ascertain the basis for the report in the newspapers, I, in my capacity as Chief Justice of this Court, asked the Registrar of this Court to request the District and Sessions Judge, Delhi, to record the statement of the subordinate Judge concerned. Such statement was recorded on August 25, 1973 and it was forwarded by the District and Sessions Judge to this Court. When the matter was placed before me in Chambers on August 30, 1973, I passed the following order:-

'ISSUEa notice to S/Shri D. B. Vohra and Bishan Dayal, Advocates and Shri Vinod Sethi to show cause why they should not be punished for contempt of the Court of Shri Ravi Kumar Sub-Judge 1st Class, Delhi, as alleged in the statement of Shri Ravi Kumar, portion marked 'X'.'

(2) In pursuance of this order, notices were issued to D. B. Vohra, Bishan Dayal Gupta and Vinod Sethi aforesaid purporting to be notices under sub-section (2) of section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (Act No. 70 of 1971). A copy of the statement of the said Subordinate Judge was also furnished to the three alleged contemners and the offending portion was marked in the margin. In pursuance of these notices, replies by way of counter affidavits have been filed by the alleged contemners. D. B. Vohra has taken some preliminary objections and has also replied to the allegations made in the aforesaid statement of the Subordinate Judge. Bishan Dayal Gupta and Vinod Sethi have not filed a reply on the factual aspect of the matter and have taken some preliminary objections. Bishan Dayal Gupta and Vinod Sethi are represented by Mr. Brijbans Kishore, Senior Advocate, and D. B. Vohra, Advocate, has appeared in person. Notices of these proceedings were also given to the President of the High Court Bar Association which is represented by Mr. P. L. Vohra, Advocate; to the President of the District Bar Association which is represented by Mr. C. L. Joseph, Advocate and to the Delhi Administration represented by Mr. S. S. Dalal, Advocate. At the request of the alleged contemners we have heard the matter only on the preliminary objections.

(3) The preliminary objections which have been argued are two-fold. The first is whether the High Court has jurisdiction to initiate contempt proceedings on its own motion in respect of criminal contempt of a subordinate Court in view of the preamble read with section 15(2) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The second is whether the High Court is empowered to punish for contempt of a subordinate Court when the 'offensive matter' is cognizable and punishable as an offence under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.

(4) The immediate predecessor of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, was the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952 which was repealed by section 24 of the former Act. The 1971 Act was enacted to define and limit the powers of certain courts in punishing contempts of Courts and to regulate their procedure in relation thereto. Section 2(a) defines 'contempt of Court' as meaning civil contempt or criminal contempt. Section 2(b) defines 'civil contempt' as meaning willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court. Section 2(c) defines 'criminal contempt' and it says:-

''criminal contempt' means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which- (i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or (ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding ; or (iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct the administration of justice in any other manner-'

The alleged contempt with which we are concerned is criminal contempt as distinguished from civil contempt.

(5) Section 14 of the 1971 Act prescribes the procedure where the contempt is in the presence or hearing of the Supreme Court or the High Court. We are not concerned with this section. Section 15 provides for cognizance of criminal contempt in other cases. It says :-

'(1)In the case of a criminal contempt, other than a contempt referred to in section 14, the Supreme Court or the High Court may take action on its own motion or on a motion made by - (a) the Advocate-General, or (b) any other person, with the consent in writing of the Advocate General. (2) In the case of any criminal contempt of a subordinate court, the High Court may take action on a reference made to it by the subordinate court or on a motion made by the Advocate General or, in relation to a Union territory, by such Law Officer as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf. (3) Every motion or reference made under this section shall specify the contempt of which the person charged is alleged to be guilty. Explanationn.-In this section, the expression 'Advocate-General' means,- (a) in relation to the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General; (b) in relation to the High Court, the Advocate-General of the State or any of the States for which the High Court has been established; (c) in relation to the court of a Judicial Commissioner; such Law Officer as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf.'

Reliance is placed upon sub-section (2) of section 15 for the first preliminary objection and it is urged that while the notice emanating from this Court states that it is based upon a reference by the Subordinate Court concerned, the only material is the aforesaid statement of the Subordinat Court concernd recorded by the District & Sessions Judge which cannot amount to a reference within the meaning of this sub-section. 'Preference' has not been defined in the 1971 Act nor have any Rules been framed under section 23 providing for any matter relating to procedure in contempt matters. Mr. Brijbans Kishore, learned counsel for two of the contemners, has contended that the statement of the Subordinate Court is merely a deposition taken by the District & Sessions Judge which is without authority and cannot amount to a reference within this sub-section. Reference was made to section 423 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and rule I of Order Xlvi of the Code of Civil Procedure which provide for reference to the High Court by making a statement of case etc. Cases have been cited with regard to the manner in which references are made by subordinate Courts to the High Court under various statutes In our opinion, no assistance can be derived from the aforesaid provisions or cases to say that a reference under sub-section (2) of section 15 of the 1971 Act should be in a particular form in which the reference in the present matter is not. Until rules are made under section 23 of the 1971 Act providing for any matter relating to procedure, word 'reference' cannot be given any technical meaning and has to be understood in its normal sense which is 'information' of a particular matter. thereforee, until provision is made under section 23 of the 1971 Act, a statement of a subordinate Court submitted to the High Court through proper channel i.e. through the District & Sessions Judge, as in this case, has to be taken to be a reference within the meaning of sub-section (2) of section 15 of the 1971 Act and we, thereforee, do not feel inclined to accept the technical objection that the statement in the present case is not a reference.

(6) Assuming, however, that sub-section (2) of section 15 cannot be invoked by reason of the fact that there is not a proper reference before this Court, we do not see why in the circumstances of this case, as stated earlier, the notices issued to the alleged contemners cannot be taken to be suo motu notices under sub-section (1) of section 15 of the 1971 Act. Learned counsel for two of the alleged contemners had to concede that a notice for contempt of a subordinate Court can be issued suo motu by the High Court under sub-section ( 1 ) of section 15 of the 1971 Act because this sub-section covers all cases relating to the cognizance of criminal contempt which are not covered by section 14 of the 1971 Act.

(7) It is true that the notices issued purport to be under sub-section (2) of section 15 of 1971 Act but assuming that technically there was no reference by the Subordinate Court concerned under sub-section (2), there is nothing to prevent this Court to treat the said notices as notices issued under sub-section (1) of section 15 of the Act. We, thereforee, do not accept the first preliminary objection. The second preliminary objection raises the question of interpretation of section 10 of the 1971 Act-particularly its proviso. This section reads:-

'10.Power of High Court to punish contempts of subordinate courts- Every High Court shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction, powers and authority, in accordance with the same procedure and practice, in respect of contempts of courts subordinate to it as it has and exercises in respect of contempts of itself: Provided that no High Court shall take cognizance of a contempt alleged to have been committed in respect of a court subordinate to it where such contempt is an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code.'

Before dealing with this question it may be necessary to give some of the facts. As stated earlier, the incident is of August 17, 1973 in the Court of Mr. Ravi Kumar, Subordinate Judge 1st Class, Delhi. It appears that the three alleged contemners appeared before the Subordinate Judge and asked as to what orders had been passed in the case entitled 'Vinod Sethi v. Radhey Sham' which was fixed for orders on that date. The Subordinate Judge asked his Reader to put up the file but was told that the case was not fixed for that date. The lawyer contemners pressed the Subordinate Judge, whereupon he asked his Reader to bring the file from the Ahlmad who sits on the ground floor. The Reader went to the room of the Ahlmad to bring the file and then comes the offensive part which is stated by the Subordinate Judge in his statement in these words:-

'INthe mean time those Advocates started language against the Reader. The actual words uttered by the said two Advocates were, 'reader beiman hai. Whiskey ke bottle mangta hai. Rupiya mangta hai. Iss ko mar dalengay. Chhoren gay nahin.' I tried to pacify those lawyers, but to no effect. Instead of talking slowly, the lawyers started shouting at a higher pitch. In the meanwhile the Reader, who had gone to Ahlmad to bring the file, came back with the file. When he had entered the court-room and was within my visibility, the said two Advocates along with their client Shri Vinod Sethi prevented him from going to his seat along with the file; and instead gave him slaps and fist blows and in this assault his shirt was also torn by the said persons.'

(8) Then the Subordinate Judge states that he got the Reader rescued and retired to his Chambers and that all this occurred in the presence of several litigants and other Advocates and that even after he retired to his Chambers, there was a lot of noise from the two Advocates. The Subordinate Judge states that he did not take action against the lawyers at the request of the Reader but later on the Reader made a complaint in writing which was forwarded to the Police for registration of the case. It appears that a challan has been filed in Court against the three alleged contemners charging them with offences under sections 186/353/506 Indian Penal Code after registration at Sabzimandi Police Station as per first information report No- 709/73. The alleged contemners have been admitted to bail and the challan is pending trial. It is not disputed that the aforesaid sections of Indian Penal Code do not relate to contempt.

(9) The argument is that according to the proviso to section 10 of the 1971 Act if any contempt committed of any Court is an offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code, the High Court cannot take cognizance of such contempt. The argument is not statble in view of the decisions of the Supreme Court. The first of these cases arose under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1926. Sub-section (3) of section 2 of this Act was identical with the proviso to section 10 of the 1971 Act. It was laid down by the Supreme Court in unmistakable terms in Bathina Ramakrishna Reddy v. State of Madras: : 1952CriLJ832 , that sub-section (3) of section 2 excludes the jurisdiction of High Court only in cases where the acts alleged to constitute contempt of a subordinate Court are punishable as contempt under specific provisions of the Indian Penal Code but net where these acts merely amount to offences of other description for which punishment has been provided for in the Indian Penal Code. The Supreme Court observed :-

'THISis clear from the language of the sub-section which uses the words 'where such contempt is an offence' and does not say 'where the act alleged to constitute such contempt is an offence'. There are offences which are punishable as contempt under the Indian Penal Code and as subordinate courts 'can sufficiently vindicate their dignity under the provisions of the criminal law in such cases, the legislature deemed it proper to exclude them from the jurisdiction of the High Court under section 2(3), Contempt of Courts Act; but it would not be correct to say that the High Court's jurisdiction is excluded even in cases where the act complained of, which is alleged to constitute contempt, is otherwise an offence under the Indian Penal Code.'

Sections 175, 178, 179 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code are mentioned as sections which provide for punishment for contempt. The second decision of the Supreme Court is in State of Madhya Pradesh v. Revashankar: : 1959CriLJ251 , where the Supreme Court was dealing with sub-section (2) of section 3 of the 1952 Act which in terms was the same as is the proviso to section 10 of the 1971 Act. The Supreme Court observed :-

'THEtrue test is: is the act complained of an offence under S. 228, Indian Penal Code, or is it something more than that If in its true nature and effect, the act complained of is really 'scandalising the court' rather than a mere insult, then it is clear that on the ratio of our decision in Ramkrishna Reddy's case : 1952CriLJ832 , the jurisdiction of the High Court is not ousted by reason of the provision in S. 3(2) of the Act.'

(10) In view of these two decisions, the second preliminary objection also has no force.

(11) The question then is whether the matter should be pursued by this Court or whether, as pleaded by the alleged contemners, we should stay our hands during the pendency of the aforesaid challan. It is true that the challan is at the instance of the Reader of the Subordinate Court and the Presiding Officer of the Court is not concerned therewith. At the same time, the offences which are the subject matter of the challan are inextricably mixed up with the circumstances which might constitute contempt. It is possible that if this Court were to pursue the contempt proceedings, its observations in its ultimate decision may prejudice the view of the Magistrate trying the challan in one way or another.

(12) This Court has never been vindictive in its approach and I am reluctant to insist upon the continuance of the contempt proceedings lest they should prejudice the alleged contemners or the prosecution. At the same time the rule issued by this Court cannot be discharged merely because of the pendency of the criminal prosecution. The best course, under the circumstances, would be to adjourn the contempt proceedings sine die to be taken up again after the conclusion of the criminal prosecution. At the same time, it is desirable that there should be expeditious disposal of the criminal prosecution particularly as two members of the Bar are involved. The Sessions Judge, Delhi, may, thereforee, be requested to direct the Judicial Magistrate concerned to expedite the disposal of the criminal prosecution and to inform this Court as soon as he has delivered judgment. Further steps in these proceedings will be taken thereafter.


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