Contempt of Court and Advocates

Contempt of court  is the offense in law of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a court order and court officers in behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court. 

It is the plain and unqualified obligation of every person against, or in respect of, whom an order is made by a Court of Competent jurisdiction to obey it unless and until that order is discharged. The uncompromising nature of this obligation is shown by the fact that it extends even to cases where the person affected by an order believes it to be irregular or even void.

Action for contempt is divisible into two categories, namely, that initiated suo motu by the Court and that instituted otherwise than on the Court's own motion. The mode of initiation in each case would necessarily be different. While in the case of suo motu proceedings, it is the Court itself which must initiate by issuing a notice. In other cases initiation can only be by a party filing an application. In our opinion, therefore, the proper construction to be placed on Section 20 must be that action must be initiated, either by filing of an application or by the Court issuing notice suo motu, within a period of one year from the date on which the contempt is alleged to have been committed. [Pallav Sheth vs. Custodian, dt 10.8.2001 SC]

Advocates Act, 1961

In Re: Vinay Chandra Mishra, (1995) 2 SCC 584, it was found that the Contemner, an advocate, guilty of committing criminal contempt of Court for having interfered with and "obstructing the course of justice by trying to threaten, overawe and overbear the court by using insulting, disrespectful and threatening language", While awarding punishment, keeping in view the gravity of the contumacious conduct of the contemner, the Court said:

“The facts and circumstances of the Present Case justify our invoking the power under Article 129 read with Article 142 of the Constitution to award to the contemner a suspended sentence of imprisonment together with suspension of his practice as an advocate in the manner directed herein. We accordingly sentence the contemner for his conviction for the offence of the criminal contempt as under:

(a) The contemner Vinay Chandra Mishra is hereby sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of six weeks. However, in the circumstances of the case, the sentence will remain suspended for a period of four years and may be activated in case the contemner is convicted for any other offence of contempt of court within the said period; and

(b) The contemner shall stand suspended from practicing as an advocate for a period of three years from today with the consequence that all held by him in his capacity as an advocate, shall stand vacated by him forthwith.

Aggrieved by the direction that the "Contemner shall stand suspended from practicing as an Advocate for a period of three years" issued by this Court by invoking powers under Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court Bar Association, through its Honorary Secretary, has filed this petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, seeking the following relief:

" Issue and appropriate writ, direction, or declaration, declaring that the disciplinary committees of the Bar Councils set up under the Advocates Act, 1961, alone have exclusive jurisdiction to inquire into and suspend or debar an advocate from practicing law for professional or other misconduct, arising out of punishment imposed for contempt of court or otherwise and further declare that the Supreme Court of India or any High Court in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction has no such original jurisdiction, power or authority in that regard notwithstanding the contrary view held by this Hon'ble Court in Contempt Petition (Crl.) No. 3 of 1994 dated 10.3.1995."

The suspension of an Advocate from practice and his removal from the State roll of advocates are both punishments specifically provided for under the Advocates Act, 1961, for proven "professional misconduct' of an advocate. While exercising its contempt jurisdiction under Article 129, the only cause or matter before this Court is regarding commission of contempt of court. There is no cause of professional misconduct, properly so called, pending before the Court. This Court, therefore, in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 129 cannot take over the jurisdiction of the disciplinary committee of the Bar Council of the State or the Bar Council of India to punish an advocate by suspending his licence, which punishment can only be imposed after a finding of 'professional misconduct' is recorded in the manner prescribed under the Advocates Act and the Rules framed thereunder. When this Court is seized of a matter of contempt of court by an advocate, there is no "case, cause or matter" before the Supreme Court regarding his "professional misconduct" even though, in a given a case, the contempt committed by an advocate may also amount to an abuse of the privilege granted to an advocate by virtue of the licence to practice law but no issue relating to his suspension from practice is the subject matter of the case.

Upon the basis of what we have said above, we answer the question posed in the earlier part of this order, in the negative. The writ petition succeeds and is ordered accordingly. [Supreme Court Bar Association vs Union Of India, dt  17.4.1998, (1998) 4 SCC 409]

Advocate Insulted by Judge

Three Advocates of this Court have filed this application alleging that a Judge of this Court has committed contempt of Court by making, insulting and uncharitable remarks against an Advocate Dr. Sadanand Jha  while hearing a civil revision application for admission.

It is to be examined as to whether the framers of the Act under Section 16 purported to put Judges of the Supreme Court and High Court at par with the Judges of the subordinate courts making them also liable to be punished under certain circumstances for having committed contempt of the Supreme Court or High Court itself. In this connection it has to be borne in mind that till the Act came in force, no Court in India had taken the view that a Judge of a High Court or the Supreme Court can also be charged for having committed contempt of the High Court or the Supreme Court. As such, before it is held that the expression' Judge in Section 16 of the Act includes a Judge of High Court or Supreme Court, it has to be established that the provisions of the Act purported to enlarge the scope of the Act by including categories of persons who had always been excluded from application of the law of contempt of courts.

There cannot be two opinions that Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts are expected to conduct the proceedings of the Court in dignified, objective and courteous manners and without fear of contradiction, it can be said that by and large the proceedings of the higher courts have been in accordance with well-settled norms. On rare occasions, complaints have been made about some outrageous or undignified behaviour. It has always been impressed that the dignity and majesty of court can be maintained only when the members of the Bar and Judges maintain their self imposed restriction while advancing the cause of the clients and rejecting submissions of the counsel who appear for such cause. But, it is difficult to lay down any hard and fast rule as to what expression a lawyer can use while addressing a court and what should ordinarily be tolerated by the judge. It is admitted on all counts that a counsel appearing before a court is entitled to press and pursue the cause of his client to the best of his ability while maintaining the dignity of the court. The Judge has also a reciprocal duty to perform and should not be discourteous to the counsel and has to maintain his respect in the eyes of clients and general public.

This is very important because the system through which justice is being administered cannot be effectively administered unless the two limbs of the court act in a harmonious manner.

‘An over subservient bar would have been one of the greatest misfortune that could happen to the administration of Justice.’ A lawyer should not conduct in a manner which lowers the dignity of the court or interferes with the administration of justice. A lawyer is under obligation to do nothing that shall detract from the dignity of the court, of which he is himself a sworn officer and assistant. He should at all-time pay deferential respect to the Judges, and scrupulously observe the decorum of the court-room.

Administration of Justice in, its true spirit is only possible when members of Bar and Bench both are conscious not only of their rights but also of their limitations, when case is being heard. Hyper sensitiveness on the one side or rudeness on the other must be avoided at all cost. It is not uncommon in the history of the administration of justice that tempers have raised high on both side but only for moments and the members of the Bar and Bench have forgotten what passed between them no sooner the cases are over. This application is dismissed in limine.

Even if an arguable case is made out for the issuance of notice to the opposite party but the word "Judge", as referred to in Section 16 of the Act, completely excludes a Judge of the High Court and, in that view of the matter, the application will be futile and hence dismissed. [Harish Chandra Mishra And Ors. vs Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ali Ahmad, dt 28.9.1985 1986 (34) BLJR 63]

However, an Advocate cannot claim any privilege in his conduct before the court and in obeying the court order or direction. He is like any other common man bound to obey the orders and subject himself to the discipline of court and co operate and assist the court in keeping up with the dignity and decorum of the court, the Temple of Justice.


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