20 January 2020


Judgments

Supreme Court

Vitusah Oberoi and Ors. v. Court of its own motion

MANU/SC/0004/2017

02.01.2017

Contempt of Court

Power to punish for contempt vested in a Court of Record does not extend to punishing for contempt of superior Court

In present appeals, Appellants called in question the correctness of an order passed by a Division Bench of High Court of Delhi whereby Appellants have been found guilty of contempt and directed to remain present in person before High Court for being heard on quantum of sentence to be awarded to them. It was submitted that, High Court could under Article 215 of Constitution of India no doubt initiate proceedings and punish for its own contempt, but it could not, according to learned Counsel, initiate proceedings or punish for contempt of Supreme Court. It was urged that even under Section 10 of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, High Court could punish only for its own contempt or contempt of a Court subordinate to it.

Genesis of suo motu proceedings initiated by High Court, lay in publication of articles, stories and write ups questioning the propriety of certain orders passed by a two-Judge bench of this Court of which Justice Y.K. Sabharwal was the Presiding Judge. No part of the publications referred to the High Court of Delhi or any other High Court for that matter. Publications did not refer to any Judge or any order of any Court subordinate to the High Court of Delhi. Initiation of proceedings by the High Court in such circumstances was, it is evident, meant to vindicate the Supreme Court more than the High Court who initiated those proceedings.

There is, nothing in Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 or in Article 215 of Constitution which can be said to empower High Court to initiate proceedings suo-motu or otherwise for contempt of a superior Court like the Supreme Court of India. As a matter of fact, Supreme Court under Article 129 and High Court under Article 215 of Constitution are both declared to be Courts of Record. One of recognised attributes of a Court of record is power to punish for its contempt and contempt of courts subordinate to it. Use of expression "including" in said provisions is explanatory in character. It signifies that, Supreme Court and High Courts shall, as Courts of Records, exercise all such powers as are otherwise available to them including power to punish for their own contempt.

Whether or not power to punish for contempt of a subordinate Court was an attribute of a court of record fell for consideration of this Court in Delhi Judicial Service Association v. State of Gujarat MANU/SC/0478/1991
: (1991) 4 SCC 406. It was held that, language employed in Article 129 indicated that, Supreme Court is a Court of Record and was entitled not only to punish for its own contempt but to do all that which is within powers of a Court of Record. This Court held that, since Constitution has designed Supreme Court as a Court of Record, Article 129 thereof recognises the existing inherent power of a Court of Record in its full plenitude including the power to punish for its own contempt and contempt of its subordinate.

Power to punish for contempt vested in a Court of Record under Article 215 does not, however, extend to punishing for contempt of a superior Court. Such a power has never been recognised as an attribute of a Court of record nor has same been specifically conferred upon High Courts under Article 215. Availability of power under Article 129 and its plenitude is yet another reason why Article 215 could never have been intended to empower High Courts to punish for contempt of Supreme Court. The logic is simple. If Supreme Court does not, despite availability of power vested in it, invoke the same to punish for its contempt, there is no question of a Court subordinate to Supreme Court doing so. Order passed by High Court were without jurisdiction, hence, set aside.

Relevant

Delhi Judicial Service Association v. State of Gujarat MANU/SC/0478/1991
: (1991) 4 SCC 406, Article 129, 215 of Constitution of India, Section 10 of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971

Tags : Proceedings Suo-motu Contempt Jurisdiction

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