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CONTEMPT OF COURT

IN A CASE REPORTED IN AIR 2008 SC 3016, JUSTICE C.K. THAKKER AND JUSTICE AFTAB ALAM HAS DISCUSSED FOLLOWING JUDGEMENTS AND OBSERVED AS FOLLOWS, IT IS WORTH RESEARCH TO READ In Ashok Paper Kamgar Union v. Dharam Godha & Ors., (2003) 11 SCC 1, this Court had an occasion to consider the concept of ‘wilful disobedience’ of an order of the Court. It was stated that ‘wilful’ means an act or omission which is done voluntarily and with the specific intent to do something the law forbids or with the specific intent to fail to do something the law requires to be done, that is to say, with bad purpose either to disobey or to disregard the law. According to the Court, it signifies the act done with evil intent or with a bad motive for the purpose. It was observed that the act or omission has to be judged having regard to the facts and circumstances of each case. 51. In Kapildeo Prasad Sah & Ors. v. State of Bihar & Ors., (1999) 7 SCC 569, it was held that for holding a person to have committed contempt, it must be shown that there was wilful disobedience of the judgment or order of the Court. But it was indicated that even negligence and carelessness may amount to contempt. It was further observed that issuance of notice for contempt of Court and power to punish are having far reaching consequences, and as such, they should be resorted to only when a clear case of wilful disobedience of the court's order is made out. A petitioner who complains breach of Court's order must allege deliberate or contumacious disobedience of the Court's order and if such allegation is proved, contempt can be said to have been made out, not otherwise. The Court noted that power to punish for contempt is intended to maintain effective legal system. It is exercised to prevent perversion of the course of justice. 52. In the celebrated decision of Attorney General v. Times Newspaper Ltd.; 1974 AC 273 : (1973) 3 All ER 54 : (1973) 3 WLR 298; Lord Diplock stated: “There is an element of public policy in punishing civil contempt, since the administration of justice would be undermined if the order of any court of law could be disregarded with impunity.” 53. In Anil Ratan Sarkar & Ors. v. Hirak Ghosh & Ors., (2002) 4 SCC 21, this Court held that the Contempt of Courts Act has been introduced in the statute-book for securing confidence of people in the administration of justice. If an order passed by a competent Court is clear and unambiguous and not capable of more than one interpretation, disobedience or breach of such order would amount to contempt of Court. There can be no laxity in such a situation because otherwise the Court orders would become the subject of mockery. Misunderstanding or own understanding of the Court’s order would not be a permissible defence. It was observed that power to punish a person for contempt is undoubtedly a powerful weapon in the hands of Judiciary but that by itself operates as a string of caution and cannot be used unless the Court is satisfied beyond doubt that the person has deliberately and intentionally violated the order of the Court. The power under the Act must be exercised with utmost care and caution and sparingly in the larger interest of the society and for proper administration of justice delivery system. Mere disobedience of an order is not enough to hold a person guilty of civil contempt. The element of willingness is an indispensable requirement to bring home the charge within the meaning of the Act. 54. In Commissioner, Karnataka Housing Board v. C. Muddaiah, (2007) 7 SCC 689, one of us (C.K. Thakker, J.) observed that once a direction is issued by a competent Court, it has to be obeyed and implemented without any reservation. If an order passed by a Court of Law is not complied with or is ignored, there will be an end of Rule of Law. If a party against whom such order is made has grievance, the only remedy available to him is to challenge the order by taking appropriate proceedings known to law. But it cannot be made ineffective by not complying with the directions on a specious plea that no such directions could have been issued by the Court. Upholding of such argument would seriously affect and impair administration of justice. 55. In All Bengal Excise Licensees Association v. Raghabendra Singh & Ors., (2007) 11 SCC 374, this Court considered several cases and observed that wilful and deliberate act of violation of interim order passed by a competent Court would amount to contempt of Court. 56. A reference in this connection may also be made to a decision of this Court in Tayabbhai M. Bagasarawala v. Hind Rubber Industries (P) Ltd., (1997) 3 SCC 443. In that case, the plaintiff-landlord filed a suit against the defendant-tenant in the City Civil Court for permanent injunction restraining the defendant from carrying on construction in the suit premises. Ad interim injunction was granted by the Court. Defendant’s application for vacating injunction was dismissed. The defendant, however, committed breach of injunction. The plaintiff, hence, filed an application under Order XXXIX, Rule 2-A of the Code. The defendant came forward and raised an objection as to jurisdiction of the Court and power to grant injunction. The High Court, ultimately, upheld the objection and ruled that City Civil Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit. It was, therefore, argued by the defendant that he cannot be punished for disobedience of an order passed by a Court which had no jurisdiction to entertain a suit or to grant injunction. The High Court upheld the contention. The plaintiff approached this Court. 57. This Court observed that until the question of jurisdiction had been decided, the City Civil Court possessed power to make interim orders. The Court could also enforce them. A subsequent decision that the Court had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit did not render interim orders passed earlier non est or without jurisdiction. A party committing breach of such orders could not escape the consequences of such disobedience and violation thereof. Accordingly, the Court held the defendant guilty for intentionally and deliberately violating interim order and convicted him under Rule 2-A of Order XXXIX of the Code and sentenced him to one month’s imprisonment. 58. Speaking for the Court, Jeevan Reddy, J. stated; “Can it be said that orders passed by the Civil Court and the High Court during this period of six years were all non est and that it is open to the defendants to flout them merrily, without fear of any consequence. The question is whether the said decision of the High Court means that no person can be punished for flouting or disobeying the interim/ interlocutory orders while they were in force, i.e., for violations and disobedience committed prior to the decision of the High Court on the question of jurisdiction. Holding that by virtue of the said decision of the High Court (on the question of jurisdiction), no one can be punished thereafter for disobedience or violation of the interim orders committed prior to the said decision of the High Court, would indeed be subversive of the Rule of Law and would seriously erode the dignity and the authority of the courts. (emphasis supplied) 59. From the above decisions, it is clear that punishing a person for contempt of Court is indeed a drastic step and normally such action should not be taken. At the same time, however, it is not only the power but the duty of the Court to uphold and maintain the dignity of Courts and majesty of law which may call for such extreme step. If for proper administration of justice and to ensure due compliance with the orders passed by a Court, it is required to take strict view under the Act, it should not hesitate in wielding the potent weapon of contempt. In Hiren Bose, Re, AIR 1969 Cal 1 : 72 Cal WN 82, the High Court of Calcutta stated; ”It is also not a matter of course that a Judge can be expected to accept any apology. Apology cannot be a weapon of defence forged always to purge the guilty. It is intended to be evidence of real contrition, the manly consciousness of a wrong done, of an injury inflicted and the earnest desire to make such reparation as lies in the wrong-doer's power. Only then is it of any avail in a Court of justice But before it can have that effect, it should be tendered at the earliest possible stage, not the latest. Even if wisdom dawns only at a later stage, the apology should be tendered unreservedly and unconditionally, before the Judge has indicated the trend of his mind. Unless that is done, not only is the tendered apology robbed of all grace but it ceases to be an apology It ceases to be the full, frank and manly confession of a wrong done, which it is intended to be”. 64. It is well-settled that an apology is neither a weapon of defence to purge the guilty of their offence; nor is it intended to operate as a universal panacea, it is intended to be evidence of real contriteness [Vide M.Y. Shareaf v. Hon’ble Judges of the High Court of Nagpur; (1955) 1 SCR 757 : M.B. Sanghi v. High Court of Punjab & Haryana, (1991) 3 SCR 312]. 65. In T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad through the Amicus Curiae v. Ashok Khot & Anr., 2006 (5) SCC 1, a three Judge Bench of this Court had an occasion to consider the question in the light of an ‘apology’ as a weapon defence by the contemner with a prayer to drop the proceedings. The Court took note of the following observations of this Court in L.D. Jaikwal v. State of U.P., (1984) 3 SCC 405: "We are sorry to say we cannot subscribe to the 'slap-say sorry and forget' school of thought in administration of contempt jurisprudence. Saying 'sorry' does not make the slipper taken the slap smart less upon the said hypocritical word being uttered. Apology shall not be paper apology and expression of sorrow should come from the heart and not from the pen. For it is one thing to 'say' sorry-it is another to 'feel' sorry”. 66. The Court, therefore, rejected the prayer and stated; “Apology is an act of contrition. Unless apology is offered at the earliest opportunity and in good grace, the apology is shorn of penitence and hence it is liable to be rejected. If the apology is offered at the time when the contemnor finds that the court is going to impose punishment it ceases to be an apology and becomes an act of a cringing coward”.

KARNATAKA LAND LAWS