1. This is an application under Section 2, Contempt of Courts Act (Act 12 of 1926). The petitioners have obtained a rule upon the opposite parties to show cause why they should not be committed or otherwise dealt with according to law for contempt of Court inasmuch as during the pendency of Title Suit No. 46 of 1936 of the 2nd Court of the Munsif at Sealdah opposite parties Nos. 2 to 7 published a certain notice. Opposite party No. 1 presided over and opposite parties Nos. 2 to 7 and 9 and 10 took part in a meeting at which certain resolutions were passed. Opposite party No. 9, an employee of the plaintiff, who is opposite party No. 8, and opposite party No. 10, an added plaintiff in the suit, took part in circulating the notice and these proceedings are said to have been instigated by opposite party No. 8, the plaintiff, in whose interest they took place. Opposite party No. 1 caused an article, drafted by opposite party No. 2 and purporting to be a report of the proceedings of the meeting, to appear over his signature in the newspapers Advance and Ananda Bazar Patrika (Exs. C and D). It appears from the affidavit of the petitioners that the suit in question was instituted on 9th March 1936 purporting to be on behalf of the local public under Order 1, Rule 8, Civil P.C., for a declaration that certain land claimed by the petitioners was a public pathway and that an injunction was issued by the Court directing that the plaintiff and his tenants should not use the disputed path till the hearing of the suit. The notice Ex. B is as follows:
The residents of Pottery Road, Hajra Bagan Lane, Kamardanga Road, Seal Lane, Convent Lane and Tengra Road are aware that the road adjoining the Bustee 7 Kamardanga Road and Hajrabagan Lane which has been and is being used by the general public from time immemorial is now under the risk of being closed. A meeting of the general public will be held at 5 p.m., on Sunday next, 27th June, at Pottery Road (the Barwari Durga Puja Maidan) for determining the course of action to be followed by residents of the quarter in order that the general public may use the said road in accordance with established usage. Srijukta Babu Biswanath Chakravarty B. L. Congress Secretary of Ward No. 19, will adorn the Presidential chair. The presence of the public is earnestly solicited.
Sd. Amiya Ranjan Das Gupta,
President, Congress Committee of Ward No. 14, B. K. Paul, B.Sc. Glasgow; and others.
2. The resolution of the meeting which is objected to, viz. Resolution No. 1, is as follows:
On Sunday, the 27th day of June last, a public meeting of the residents of Pottery Road, Kamardanga Road, Hajrabagan Road of Entally and the neighbouring places was held at Kamardanga K.C. Girls' High Sohool premises. 8j. Biswanath Chakravarty B. L. took the Presidential chair. A resolution was passed at the meeting protesting against the attempts of Sures Chandra Mukherjee and others to close up the road or land to the west of No. 7 Kamardanga Boad and adjoining Hajrabagan Lane which is being used by the general public for the past 40 or 50 years.
3. The article in Advance describes the resolution as protesting against the attempts of Babu S. C. Mukherjee and others to close the land in question which was being used by the public for the last 40 or 50 years openly and publicly. The other news. paper article (Ex. D) was similarly worded. The petitioners maintained that this was done in pursuance of a scheme to defeat justice and create prejudice against the defendants in the suit and that the notice of the meeting and the newspaper articles are in fact calculated to obstruct and interfere with the due course of justice and to prejudice mankind against these defendant petitioners before the case was heard and are thus in contempt of Court. In support of their contention the petitioners have referred to the case in In Re: William Thomas Shipping Co. (1930) 2. Ch 368 in which it was held that
the publication of injurious misrepresentations concerning parties to proceedings in relation to those proceedings may amount to contempt of Court, because it may cause those parties to discontinue or to compromise, and because it may deter persons with good causes of action from coming to the Court, and is thus likely to affect the course of justice.
4. That case is not entirely in point inasmuch as it has not so far been proved that any misrepresentation has actually been made in this case. The next case referred to for the petitioners is the case in Krishna Yaohendra Bahadur v. N.V. Rama Naidu (1938) 25 AIR Mad 248. In this case it was held that a newspaper article making accusations against a party to a pending suit and prejudicing the public against him amounts to contempt of Court. That suit was to restrain' 40 people from entering the petitioner's forest and cutting the produce therein which they claimed they had a right to cut and sell. The article dilated on the grievances of these people and alleged that they were being ruined by the petitioner by his taking away their occupation and also by concocting false cases against them. That decision has some bearing on the present case if it can be shown that by the action of the opposite parties the public will be prejudiced against the petitioners during the pendency of the suit. That, in fact, prejudice would be created against the defendant, I think there can be no doubt. It is alleged that they are closing up a public right of way, though whether it is a public right of way or not is a matter which is subjudice. It is not as if the notice stated that a suit had been brought on behalf of the public for a declaration that this was a public right of way and asking those interested to meet and decide what was to be done about it. To such a notice there could be no objection.
5. There is the same objection to the newspaper reports for which opposite parties Nos. 1 and 2 are responsible. The reports were drafted by opposite party No. 2, the President of the Congress Committee of Ward No. 14, and sent to the Amrita Bazar and Ananda Bazar Patrikas by opposite party No. 1 as Secretary to the Local Congress Committee for publication over his signature. The reports describe the resolution as protesting against the attempts of Mr. S. C. Mukherjee and others to close a pathway which was being used by the public for 40 or 50 years. To the resolution itself, it appears to me, there is not so much objection in so far as it is, or purports to be, merely a resolution of the residents of the locality to support the cause of establishing the right of the public over the land in suit. But it is still objectionable to put forward in the resolution of a public meeting a positive assertion of a public right of way against the exercise of which the Court has granted a temporary injunction and the existence of which is a matter subjudice, since it was likely to prejudice the community against the party who are said to be closing the public way and so causing much inconvenience to the public. On behalf of the opposite party Onslow's & Whalley's case (1873) 9 Q B 219 has been referred to. In that case it was held that it is contempt of Court to address public meetings alleging that a defendant against whom a true bill has been found is not guilty, and that there is a conspiracy against him and that he cannot have a fair trial. In the course of his judgment his Lordship Cockburn C.J. said:
We quite agree that it would be harsh and unnecessary proceeding to interfere with the expression of an opinion honestly entertained, and bona fide expressed for a legitimate purpose....
6. The facts of that case were of an entirely different character to those of the present case, but assuming that that dictum is equally applicable in the present case, we are not convinced that the opinion expressed in the publications referred to was honestly entertained and expressed for a legitimate purpose, considering the previous conduct of opposite party No. 8 Hiralal Agarwalla and his officers as set forth in the petition, and we think that in spite of the denial of the opposite party it is extremely probable that these publications were made solely for the purpose of creating a prejudice in their favour. Another case referred to for the opposite party is the case in Plating Co. v. Farquharson (1881) 17 Ch D 49. The facts of that case are totally different, and it is obvious that it was not contempt to publish advertisements inviting the trade to subscribe towards the expenses of an appeal and offering a reward for the production of evidence. Finally, for the opposite party, the case of In re New Gold Coast Exploration Co (1901) 1 Ch 860, is referred to. There, while proceedings for the removal of a voluntary liquidator were pending, a circular was issued asking the share-holders to support the application. It was held that the circular could not in any way interfere with or prejudice the due trial of the matter and it was not a contempt of Court. That case is distinguishable as there the circular was issued not to the public at large or persons in any way interested but to two individuals who were co-applicants with the petitioners. On the other hand, the case in Sathappa Chettiar v. Ramachandra Naidu (1932) 19 AIR Mad 26 is in point, though it is a more extreme case. In that case Sathappa, the manager of certain cotton mills, was on his trial for criminal breach of trust when a newspaper poster proclaimed as follows : 'Sathappa Chettiar in trouble. Police search at Tiruppur. Thousands of rupees missing. Cotton Mills in danger.' It was held that this was contempt and the observation of Lord Alverstone in Rex v. Tibbits (1902) 1 KB 77 was referred to with approval, viz. that
the essence of the offence is conduct calculated to produce, so to speak, an atmosphere of prejudice in the midst of which the proceedings must go on.
7. This is in accordance with the law as laid down in Oswald's Contempt of Court, p. 91, Edn. 3 in which he notes as one kind of contempt the publication of 'anything which tends to excite prejudice against the parties or their litigation while it is pending.' It is clear that opposite parties Nos. 1 to 7 have been guilty of this kind of con-tempt. As regards opposite parties Nos. 9 and 10 in view of the affidavits which have been filed and the probabilities of the case, we think they should also be held responsible for the publication and distribution of the notice and the resolution passed at the meeting. As regards opposite party No. 8, in his affidavit he denies having had anything to do with these proceedings, and the only allegation against him is that contained in para. 14 of the petition which is as follows:
That realizing full well that he has a very weak case on merits the said Hiralal thought of other means in order to defeat justice and create prejudice against the defendants.
8. It is not definitely alleged what part he took in those proceedings and therefore in view of his definite denial on affidavit of having taken any part, we think that, although the circumstances against him are extremely suspicious, there is no proof that he took part in the proceedings and he should not therefore be held liable. Since apologies have been tendered and since it is probable that the parties did not realize that their conduct amounted to contempt, we think it will be sufficient to direct that each of them except Hira Lal Agarwalla, opposite party No. 8, must pay one gold mohur as costs of the action.
9. I agree and desire only to add a few words with special reference to the resolution passed at the public meeting which was convened by opposite parties Nos. 1 and 2 and attended by opposite parties Nos. 1 to 7. The argument on behalf of the opposite parties Nos. 1 to 7 is that in doing what they did these opposite parties were acting well within their rights and that their conduct could in no way embarrass the petitioners' defence in the Title Suit No. 46 of 1936. It is contended that 'their only object in convening and holding the public meeting was to take counsel with one another for the concerting of measures to vindicate their common right. To deny them such liberty of action would be to deprive them of means and methods which were entirely legitimate. It is further con-tended that the notice convening the public meeting and the resolution passed at that public meeting did no more than express the belief which these opposite parties entertained in the existence of their rights and that the manner of that expression was fair and temperate. In my judgment there would have been considerable force in this argument but for one circumstance. It is that in the expressions used the opposite parties do not merely allege their personal belief in the existence of a right. They assert affirmatively and categorically that the petitioner has been guilty of violating an immemorial right of the public. The language of the resolution, responsibility for which attaches to all the opposite parties Nos .1 to 7, is as follows:
In view of the fact that the residents of Sil Lane, Pottery Road, Kamardanga Road, Hajra Bagan Lane, Tangra Road, Convent Lane, Ananda Palit Road and other neighbouring places have been using the strip of land on west of the No. 7 Kamardanga Bustee and adjacent to Hajra Bagan Lane as a public lane publicly, openly as of right and without any interruption from anybody for over 40 or 50 years and the same having been closed by Babu Suresh Chandra Mukherjee and others causing such inconvenience to the public, the residents of the locality assembled in his meeting to-day (27-6-37) do hereby resolve to support the cause of establishing the right of the public over the said strip of land in Title Suit No. 46 of 1936 pending before the Second Court of the Munsif at Sealdah.
10. Now the defence of the petitioner in the title suit is that the land is his own and that no person and far less the public have ever enjoyed any right of way over it. What would be the effect and tendency -of the resolution quoted above upon the petitioner's ability to establish his defence in the Title Suit? In my opinion it will be to hamper and circumscribe. Such a resolution passed at a public meeting would predispose people to a belief, right or wrong, that the petitioner was an invader of the public's right. It undoubtedly conveys the impression of a public denunciation of the petitioner's conduct and such a denunciation might well deter inhabitants of the locality from bearing testimony in support of the petitioner's case. As already indicated in the judgment just pronounced by my learned brother, certain passages in the judgment of Cockburn C. J. in (1873) 9 Q B 219,3 though the facts of that case were very different, may be referred to for the purpose of illustrating the boundary between public utterances which are justifiable and those which are not: (1873) 9 Q B 2193 at pp. 225 and 226.
We quite agree that it would be a harsh and unnecessary proceeding to interfere with the expression of an opinion honestly entertained, and bona fide expressed for a legitimate purpose; but when, at a meeting, held, it may be, for the purpose only of providing funds, language is used which amounts to an offence against the law and contempt of a Court which has to administer the law, the motive or purpose for which the meeting was held affords no excuse whatever, still less any justification, for the improper language used .... It has been attempted to be contended to-day on your behalf that the meetings in question were convened solely for the purpose of obtaining money in order to enable the accused to carry on his defence, with the additional purpose of removing any prejudice which the result of the former trial may have produced against him. But that, as I have said, affords no excuse, if the language used on these occasions has been such as to amount to an unwarrantable interference with the course of justice with reference to the coming trial....
11. In 55 Mad 2626 at page 266 which has also been referred to by my learned brother, Beasley C. J. quoted the language of Lord Alverstone in Rex v. Tibbits (1902) 1 KB 77.
It would, indeed, be far-fetched to infer that the articles would in fact have any effect upon the mind of either Magistrate or Judge....
Beasley C.J. then went on to say
but the essence of the offence is conduct calculated to produce, so to speak, an atmosphere of prejudice in the midst of which the proceedings must go on. Publications of that character have been punished over and over again as contempts of Court, where the legal proceedings pending did not involve trial by jury and where no one would imagine that the mind of the Magistrates or Judges charged with the case would or could be induced thereby to swerve from the straight course.
12. Now for the reasons already stated, I am clearly of opinion that the proclivity of the resolution which was passed at the public meeting which opposite parties Nos. 1 and 2 convened and which the opposite parties Nos. 1 to 7 attended would be to embarrass if indeed not to imperil the petitioner's cause and that being so, the passing of that resolution amounted to contempt.