In establishment of guilt of a party for contempt of court should not be done on the basis of subsequent conduct of the party: The Supreme Court of India

While it is open to the court to see whether the subsequent conduct of the alleged contemnor would tantamount to an aggravation of the contempt already committed, the very determination of an act of contempt cannot simply be based upon the subsequent conduct. But the subsequent conduct of the party may throw light upon one important aspect namely whether it was just the inability of the party to honour the commitment or it was part of a larger design to hoodwink the court. The aforesaid has been established by the Supreme Court while adjudicating the case of Suman Chadha & Anr. v. Central Bank of India [SLP (C) No. 28592 of 2018] which was decided upon by a single judge bench comprising Justice Ramasubramanian on 9th August 2021.

The facts of the case are as follows. Upon being found guilty of committing contempt of Court, the petitioners who are husband and wife respectively, were sentenced to simple imprisonment for three months along with a fine of Rs.2000/ each, by a learned Judge of the Delhi High Court. The said Order having been confirmed by the Division Bench of the High Court in an appeal under Section 19 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (Act’ for ort), the petitioners have come up with the above Special Leave Petition. On 29th April, 2015, the petitioners gave a letter along with four cheques for Rs. 50 lakhs each dated 06th May, 2015 purportedly in compliance of the order dated 08th April, 2015. Accordingly, the possession proceedings for one property scheduled for 30th April, 2015 were deferred by the Bank. But on 08th May, 2015, all the four cheques bounced. Therefore, the respondent-Bank filed a petition under Sections 10 and 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act. 1971 for punishing the petitioners for wilful and deliberate breach of their undertaking dated 08.04.2015. Though the petitioners resisted the contempt petition on the ground that breach of an undertaking, made with a view to secure a conditional order of stay may not tantamount to contempt, especially when the consequences of breach of such undertaking are spelt out in the order of the Court itself. the learned Judge was not convinced. Therefore, by an Order dated 18.07.2017, the learned Judge of the High Court held the petitioners guilty of contempt and sentenced them simple imprisonment for three months with a fine of Rs.2000 each.

The court perused the facts and arguments presented. It relied on several judgments including Babu Ram Gupta v. Sudhir Bhasin (2980) 3 SCC 47 and Rama Narang v. Ramesh Narang & Anr (2006) 11 SCC 114. It was hence of the opinion that “In this case, the series of acts committed by the petitioners (i) in issuing post-dated cheques. which were dated beyond the date within which they had agreed to make payment: (ii) in allowing those cheques to be dishonoured: (iii) in not appearing before the Court on the first date of hearing with an excuse that was found to be false; (iv) in coming up with an explanation about their own debtors committing default: and (v) in getting exposed through the report of the SFIO. convinced the High Court to believe that the undertaking given by the petitioners on 08.04.2015 was not based upon good faith but intended to hoodwink the Court. Therefore, we are unable to find fault with the High Court holding the petitioners guilty of contempt.”

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