New Delhi: Citizens can criticise the judgments but no one has the right to attribute motives or question the bonafide of Judges, the Supreme Court said on Monday and stressed that any attempt to browbeat judges have to be dealt with sternly.
The top court held three persons including two advocates guilty of contempt of court for making scurrilous and scandalous allegations against its two sitting judges saying there can”t be ill-founded sympathy for lawyers, who try to threaten judges.
It said, that bonafide and constructive criticism of any institution including the judiciary and judgments pronounced by it is always welcome and cannot amount to contempt of court.
“However, if the allegations levelled go beyond the ambit of criticism and scandalise the Court then there can be no manner of doubt that such utterances or written words would amount to contempt of Court,” the top court said.
A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose held advocate Vijay Kurle , state president of Maharashtra and Goa of the Indian Bar Association, advocate Nilesh Ojha, President of Indian Bar Association and Rashid Khan Pathan, national secretary of NGO, Human Rights Security Council, guilty of contempt for making scandalous allegations against the judges.
The top court listed the matter through video conferencing on May 1, for hearing on quantum of sentence for the contemnors.
The bench, rejected the legal objections raised by the three contemnors on the manner of proceedings and said that the power to punish for contempt of itself is a constitutional power vested in the Supreme Court which cannot be abridged or taken away.
Holding that contempt is basically a matter between the Court and the contemnor, the bench said, any person can inform the Court of the contempt committed and the court on the basis of the information itself took suo motu note of the contempt.
“There can be no manner of doubt that every citizen is entitled to criticise the judgments of this Court and Article 19 of the Constitution which guarantees the right of free speech to every citizen of the country must be given the exalted status, which it deserves,” it said.
“The purpose of having a law of contempt is not to prevent fair criticism but to ensure that the respect and confidence which the people of this country repose in the judicial system is not undermined in any manner whatsoever. If the confidence of the citizenry in the institution of justice is shattered then not only the judiciary, but democracy itself will be under threat,” it said.
It said that no party has the right to attribute motives to a Judge or to question the bona fides of the Judge or to raise questions with regard to the competence of the Judge.
“Judges are part and parcel of the justice delivery system. By and large Judges are reluctant to take action under contempt laws when a personal attack is made on them. However, when there is a concerted attack by members of the Bar who profess to be the members of an organization having a large following, then the Court cannot shut its eyes to the slanderous and scandalous allegations made,” the top court added.
The bench, dealing with Kurle’s allegations said that no lawyer can threaten to expose a judge in front of the advocates and public on the basis of some vague and reckless allegations and the language is highly disrespectful and scandalises the Court and, therefore, amounts to committing contempt of the Court.
“We also fail to understand how Vijay Kurle who is a lawyer claims that it is his fundamental right to initiate criminal proceedings against Judges. Some members of the Bar cannot hold the judiciary to ransom by threatening Judges of initiating criminal action. If this trend is not dealt with firmly then any party against whom a case is decided will start filing criminal cases against judges,” it said.
The top court said that the relationship between the Bench and the Bar should be a cordial relationship with mutual respect for each other.
“Lawyers who try to browbeat or threaten judges have to be dealt with firmly and there can be no ill-founded sympathy for such lawyers. Such lawyers do nothing to help the legal fraternity much less the Bar,” it said.
The bench, while dealing with Pathan’s allegations, said that these are “scurrilous and scandalous” and no litigant has a right to attribute motives to a judge.
On Ojha”s contempt the bench said, that he is president of the bar body, whose state president is Kurle and throughout the hearing he maintained that he had not signed the letters but his written submissions indicated that he had not associated from those allegations.
“When a member of the body of lawyers sends such a vitriolic communication making scandalous allegations against Judges the head of such body cannot shirk responsibility for the same. The head should either immediately send a contradiction or otherwise it has to be presumed that the complaint has been sent with his knowledge, consent and approval,” the bench said.
On March 27, last year, the apex court had sentenced advocate Mathews J Nedumpara to three months in jail for contempt of court and attempting to “browbeat” judges but suspended the sentence after taking note of the unconditional apology tendered by him.
On the same day, the top court had issued contempt notices to Kurle, Pathan and Ojha for “scandalous allegations” levelled against to two of its judges
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