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Only High Courts have the power to take cognizance in respect of contempt of subordinate courts under Contempt of Courts Act, 1971: High Court of Delhi

According to Sections 10 and 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, only High Courts have the power to take cognizance in respect of contempt of courts subordinate to it. Subordinate courts cannot assume jurisdiction and issue show cause notice as to why contempt proceedings has not been initiated. A subordinate court can only make a reference to the High Court for initiating contempt proceedings. These were stated by High Court of Delhi, consisting Justice Amit Bansal in the case of ICICI Bank Limited vs. Rashmi Sharma [CM(M) 36/2022] on 12.01.2022.

The facts of the case are that the defendant approached the plaintiff for grant of a car loan cum hypothecation scheme of Rs.5,01,000 for the purchase of a vehicle. The loan documents were executed and the loan was duly sanctioned to the defendant. The defendant defaulted in payments of monthly instalments towards repayment of the loan and consequently. The plaintiff filed a commercial suit for recovery against the defendant. The summons were issued in the commercial suit. In terms of the aforesaid order passed by the Commercial Court, the plaintiff took steps for affecting service on the defendant through ordinary process as well as speed post by filing process fee and sealed covers containing the summons and paper book respectively. In addition to the service through the above modes, the plaintiff also sent the photograph of the summons issued by the Commercial Court to the defendant by means of WhatsApp since the plaintiff had the phone number of the defendant provided in the loan documents. When the matter came up before the Commercial Court it was noted that the defendant had received a private notice of appearance through WhatsApp and had not received any notice/summons from the Court. On the basis of the above, the Commercial Court passed the order that the act of plaintiff amounts to overreaching the judicial system or running a parallel system with the judicial system.

The Counsel for the plaintiff submitted that the plaintiff had taken steps for the ordinary service as well as service through speed post upon the defendant. The process fee was duly filed in terms of which the summons were prepared for ordinary service by the process server and summons in respect of service through speed post were handed over to the plaintiff to be sent through speed post. It was submitted that even though steps were not taken by the plaintiff for service through email, but the photograph of the summons were duly sent to the defendant through WhatsApp and photocopy of the summons were sent through WhatsApp only to ensure presence of defendants before the Commercial Court on the next date of hearing. It was lastly contended, that even if the photograph of the summons were sent to the defendant through WhatsApp, no case of contempt has been made out.

None appeared on behalf of the respondent despite advance service.

The High Court of Delhi held that just because the photograph of the summons were sent by the plaintiff to the defendant through WhatsApp, it cannot amount to overreaching the judicial system or running a parallel system with the judicial system. The aforesaid observations were completely uncalled for. It was observed that the plaintiff had duly filed process fee and taken steps for issuance of regular summons to the defendant through the ordinary process as well as speed post. The photograph of the summons were sent through WhatsApp only as an additional measure so as to ensure the appearance of the defendant before the Commercial Court. There is nothing malafide in the same and it cannot be said that that was an attempt to overreach the judicial proceedings. Therefore, Commercial Court has completely gone overboard in issuing notice for initiating contempt proceedings. In view of Sections 10 and 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, only High Courts have the power to take cognizance in respect of contempt of courts subordinate to it. Subordinate courts cannot assume jurisdiction and issue show cause notice as to why contempt proceedings have not been initiated. A subordinate court can only make a reference to the High Court for initiating contempt proceedings. Therefore, the impugned order is clearly in excess of the jurisdiction vested with the Commercial Court. Accordingly, the petition was allowed and the impugned order was set aside.

Judgment reviewed by Shristi Suman. Read Judgment

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