Contempt of Court; Power & Jurisdiction of Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of India in Delhi Judicial Services Association Vs. State of Gujarat, AIR 1991 SC 2176 : 1991 (3) SCR 936 : (1991) 4 SCC 406 : JT 1991 (3) SC 617 : 1991 (2) SCALE 501 has held that Court has inherent power and jurisdiction to take action for contempt of subordinate or inferior courts also.

A bench comprising of Justice K.N. Singh, Justice Kuldip Singh and Justice N.M. Kasliwal observed that the power to be exercised sparingly only when contempt is likely to have repercussions throughout the country.

Contempt of Court

High Courts as Courts of Record have inherent power and jurisdiction to take action for contempt of subordinate or inferior courts. Supreme Court having judicial superintendence over all courts in the country has same jurisdiction.

Criminal contempt is wide enough to include any act which would tend to interfere with administration of justice or which would lower the dignity and authority of court.

Facts of the Case & Important Findings

Chief Judicial Magistrate was assaulted, arrested on flimsy grounds, handcuffed, tied with rope, photographs taken and published by Police Officers.The Apex Court held that it constituted clear case of criminal contempt. Quantum of punishment determined according to degree and extent of part played by each contemner.

Guidelines laid down by Supreme Court in case of arrest and detention of a Judicial Officer. It is to be followed by State Governments as well as High Courts. Judicial Officer not to visit Police Station. Except in connection with official and judicial duties and with prior intimation to District and Sessions Judge.

High Court Judge appointed as Commissioner. Inquiry made, evidence recorded and report submitted. The Apex Court held that contemners not persons accused of an offence.

Plenary jurisdiction unaffected by self imposed restrictions of the Court. From plenary jurisdiction flows supervisory jurisdiction over all courts and Tribunals in India. Supreme Court’s jurisdiction and power not limited. Can determine its own jurisdiction and it will De final.

Supreme Court taking cognizance of contempt matter arising out of an incident subject matter of trial before a criminal court. Has ample power to do complete justice and prevent abuse of process of court.

‘Cause’ or ‘matter’ includes proceeding pending in Civil or criminal matter. Need to do ‘complete justice’ would depend on facts and circumstances of case.

Decisions of Federal Court not binding but entitled to great weight. Changes brought about by Constitution to be kept in mind while considering Federal Court, Privy Council decisions.

Object of punishing contemner is to protect administration of public justice. Not to protect Judges personally. Police Officers assaulting, arresting and handcuffing Chief Judicial Magistrate and publishing photographs in news- papers constituted criminal contempt.

Punishment to contemners determined having regard to degree and extent of part played by each contemner. Guidelines laid down by Supreme Court to be followed by State Governments and High Courts while arresting Judicial Officers. Criminal contempt proceedings different from ordinary criminal proceedings.

Courts of Record have power to summarily punish for contempt of court. Contempt of Courts Act 1971 does not curtail inherent power of Supreme Court to punish for contempt.

Interpretation of Constitution not permissible to adopt a construction which would render any expression superfluous or redundant. Regard to be had to the social, economic and political changes, need of the Community and the independence of the judiciary. Supreme Court cannot be a helpless spectator bound by precedents of colonial days which have least relevance.

Position and role of Chief Judicial Magistrate. Coordination, Cooperation of police necessity for. Police to be scrupulously fair to offender. Magistrate to ensure fair investigation and fair trial of offender.

Purpose and object of Magistracy and police is complementary to each other. Judicial officer not to visit police station except in connection with official and judicial duties and with prior intimation to District and Sessions Judge.

A fortiori the Supreme Court being the Apex Court of the country and superior court of record should possess the same inherent jurisdiction and power for taking action for contempt of itself, as well as, for the contempt of subordinate and inferior courts.

Facts in Detail

Mr. N.L. Patel was posted as Chief Judicial Magistrate at Nadiad in October, 1988. He soon found that the local Police was not cooperating with the courts in efficting service of summons, warrants and notices on accused persons, as a result of which the trials of cases were delayed.

He made complaint against the local police to the District Superintendent of Police and forwarded a copy of the same to the Director General of Police but nothing concrete happened.

On account of these complaints, Mr. S.R. Sharma, Police Inspector, Nadiad was annoyed with the Chief Judicial Magistrate and he withdrew constables posted in the CJM Court.

In April 1989, the CJM filed two complaints with the Police against the Police Inspector and other Police Officials, Nadiad for delaying the process of the Court.

On 25th July, 1989, the CJM directed the police to register a criminal case against 14 persons who had caused obstruction in judicial proceedings but subsequently since unqualified apology was tendered, the CJM directed the Police Inspector to drop the cases.

The Police Inspector reacted strongly to the CJM’s direction and he made complaint against the CJM to the Registrar of the High Court through the District Superintendent of Police.

On account of the aforesaid facts there was hostility between the Police of Nadiad and the CJM. On 25th September 1989, the Police Inspector met the CJM in his chambers to discuss a case where the Police had failed to submit the charge-sheet within 90 days.

During discussion the Police Inspector invited the CJM to visit the police station to see the papers and assured him that he would mollify the sentiments of the police officials. At 8.35 p.m. on the said date, the Police Inspector sent a Police Jeep to the CJM’s residence and he went to the Police Station.

According to the CJM when he arrived in the Police Station he was forced to consume liquor and on his refusal he was assulted, handcuffed and tied with rope by Police Inspector, Sub-Inspector, Head Constable, and Constable and that he was sent to Hospital for Medical Examination under handcuffs.

A photographer was arranged to take his photograph which was published in the newspapers. The Police Inspector disputed these allegations and according to him the CJM entered his chamber at the Police Station in a drunken state, shouting and abusing him and since he was violent, he was arrested, handcuffed and sent to Hospital for Medical Examination.

He himself wanted to be photographed and that is why the photographs were taken by the press photographer. As the incident undermined the dignity of courts in the country, Judicial Officers, Judges and Magistrates all over the country were in a state of shock, they felt insecure and humiliated.

A number of Bar Associations passed Resolutions and went on strike. The Delhi Judicial Service Association, the All India Judges Association, Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh and many others approached this Court by means of telegrams and petitions under Article 32 for saving the dignity and honour of the judiciary.

The CJM also filed an application for quashing the two FIRs lodged against him and for directing the trial of his complaint as State case an award of compensation.

On 29.9.1989 this Court took cognizance of the matter by issuing notices to the State of Gujarat and other Police Officers.

Since there was serious dispute between the parties with regard to the entire incident, the Court appointed the senior puisne Judge of the Allahabad High Court to inquire into the incident and to submit a report to the Court. The inquiry was held on behalf of the Court and not under the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act.

A detailed report was submitted to this Court and the Court directed copies to be delivered to the concerned parties and permitted the parties and the contemners to file their objections before this Court.

The Learned Commissioner’s Report establised the following facts and circumstances: that the CJM found that the Police of Nadiad was not effective in service of summons and had adopted an attitude of indifference to the court’s orders, and as complaints were forwarded to the authorities by the CJM there was confrontation between the local police and the magistracy.

When the CJM visited the police station pursuant to the Police Inspector’s request to discuss the matter, he was forced to consume liquor and on his refusal he was assaulted. He was tied up with a rope by the Police personnel and handcuffed deliberately in defiance of the state’s Police Regulations and Circulars and the decision of this Court in Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration.,

A panchnama showing the drunken state of the CJM was pre- pared by the Police Inspector and signed by two panchas–a Mamlatdar and a Fire Brigade Officer. A press photographer was brought on the scene, the police personnel posed with the CJM for the press photographer and the same was published in newspapers.

A request made by the CJM to the Civil Hospital doctors to contact and inform the District Judge about the incident was not allowed. On examination at the hospital, the body of the CJM was found to have a number of injuries. His blood was taken and chemical examination conducted.

The Chemical Examiner submitted a report holding that the blood sample contained alcohol. At the initial stage only one case was registered against the CJM by the Police under the Bombay Prohibition Act, but when lawyers met the Police Inspector for securing release of the CJM on bail, the offence being bailable, the Police Inspector, registered another case under Sections 332 and 506 IPC in order to frustrate the attempt.

The District Superintendent of Police did not take immediate action in the matter but created an alibi that he had gone elsewhere and stayed in the government Rest House there, the register of the Rest House however indicating that the entry regarding the stay was manipulated subsequently by making an interpolation.

On behalf of the contemners-Police Officers it was contended that: