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Yatin Oza Contempt Case: Gujarat HC

In the case of Suo Motu v. Yatin Narendra Oza, (R/CRIMINAL MISC. APPLICATION NO.  8120 of 2020), Gujarat High Court clearly stated that no one is bigger than the institution itself in the name of taking up the cause of advocates, that he or she can go to any extent of tarnishing the image of the institution by his expression and utterances. The judges in this case were Justice Sonia Gokani & N.V.Anjaria.

The facts of the case include that the Court had noticed from the contents of the live press conference telecast on Facebook by the President of Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association (GHAA) which were based on reckless and unpalatable utterances of the present respondent. Therefore, they had exercised their powers under Article 215 of the Constitution of India and the provisions of the Contempt of Court Act,1971. The had, therefore, Court initiated the action against the respondent contemnor on 09.06.2020 taking cognizance of criminal contempt on having found prima facie that respondent, as the Bar President, by his scandalous expression and indiscriminate as well as baseless utterances, attempted to cause serious damage to the prestige of majesty of the Court. It was also taken into consideration that as an independent judiciary he had attempted to lower the image of the entire administration and also created a demoralizing effect amongst the administrative wing, seeking to tarnish the image and lower the esteem of the institution of the High Court as a whole. Therefore they had held the respondent responsible prima facie for committing the criminal contempt under section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Courts Act and had taken cognizance of such criminal contempt under section 15 of the Contempt of Court Act,1971 on 09.06.2020.

The specific comments by the respondent included:

Oza indicate that he levelled following allegations broadly. (1) corrupt practices being adopted by the registry of the High Court of Gujarat, (2) undue favour is shown to high-profile industrialist and smugglers and traitors, (3) The High Court functioning is for influential and rich people and their advocates, (4) The billionaires walk away with order from the High Court in two days whereas the poor and non VIPs need to suffer, (5) if the litigants want to file any matter in the High Court person has to be either Mr Khambhata or the builder or the company. This also was circulated in Gujarati daily Sandesh titled as ‘Gujarat HighCourt has become a gambling den

It was laid down in this case that “The Parliament has used the word scandalising the court and the definition does not refer to either the administrative wing or the judicial wing. It does not refer to the judges, not does it refer to the Registry, however, to say that the court does not include the Registry as rightly urged by learned amicus curiae would amount to strain reading of the provision. The Legislature has not used the words “Judges” or the “Judiciary”, while framing the law. Reference in the case of Arundati Roy and paragraph 21 of the decision as to whether scandalising the court would mean scandalising the judges, shall need to be looked at by referring to the decision of the Apex Court in the case of D.C. Saxena vs the Surpeme Court of India, 1996(5) SCC 216. D.C. Saxena (supra) was referred to and relied on in Arundhati Roy (supra), which was pressed into service by learned Senior Advocate Mr.Datar.

“Respondent’s language was highly intemperate. His approach was affront and recourse taken was the least expected of the President of the High Court Bar Association. He surely would be aware that the judiciary on its administrative side alone can help in resolving all these issues as the crisis continued to deepen and when there were no shores at sight.”

We have already opined on the aspect of unconditional apology, in our order dated 26.08.2020, we on merits hold that indubitably all these utterances are against the court and the court essentially and predominantly, judicial as well as administrative wings. Those attacks against the Registry also eventually stopped at clearly pointing the fingers at the ‘court’ and at its the manner and method of dispensation of justice. This Court has to hold that these words spoken and the utterances published were scurrilous attack on the court and they were scandalous.”

“From the facts narrated and discussion supplied herein, it is inescapable that the statements and utterances by the respondent-contemnor had a definite tendency of shaking confidence of the public. They were scurrilous and intemperate. In the facts of the case, aspect of argument sought to be raised about fair criticism would hardly be acceptable.”

Every advocate is basically expected to serve the society while earning his livelihood with dignity. It is the best opportunity to him existentially that he would serve the society and redress the grievance and ameliorate the pain and plight of many in the course of their professional journey.

This Court being the Court of record, it enjoys the power to punish for the contempt which is a part of its inherent jurisdiction for administering justice effectively and in an orderly manner and to prevent unsubstantiated, biased and reckless so also the scurrilous allegations, which have the tendency of scandalizing the Court and interfering in the administration of justice, shall need to be dealt with, with heavy hands. We are also at pains to perform this onerous task. It is never a happy co-incidence to perform such obligation and yet the duty is not to be scaled in doing what a particular nature of work by labelizing the same as good or bad.  It is first and the foremost to perform the same ensuring the respect and confidence of the people of this country, which has reposed its faith in the judicial system by ensuring that no individual undermines the same in any mode or manner.”

Thus the court decided that “this Court in exercise of powers  conferred upon it under Article 215 of the Constitution of India and section 15  of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, holds the Respondent contemnor guilty of committing criminal contempt of  this Court within the meaning of section 2(c)(i)  of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.”

“We deem it appropriate to punish the contemnor so as to sentence him till rising of the court and further to impose fine of Rs.2000/- (Rupees Two thousand Only) and in default, to undergo the simple imprisonment for two month under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act.”

It was also held that “At this stage, a request is made by the learned Senior Advocate Mr. Mihir Joshi to suspend the judgement and order of conviction and sentence to enable the respondent to approach the Apex Court by way of an appeal under section 19 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 before the Apex Court. Being conscious of the pending petition before the Apex Court of the respondent contemnor and the last order passed therein by the Apex Court so also bearing in mind the provisions of the Appeal under the Contempt of Courts Act, where appeal being right of the respondent under the provisions of the Act, execution of the punishment awarded is suspended exercising the powers conferred upon this Court under sub-section(2) of section 19 of the Contempt of Court Act till the period of preferring of the appeal before the Apex Court i.e. 60 days.”

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