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“Subordinate courts cannot assume jurisdiction and issue show cause notice as to why contempt proceedings be not initiated”: Delhi High Court

The issue whether a subordinate court can assume jurisdiction in excess of its authority and serve show cause notice as to why proceedings of criminal contempt should not be initiated against them was before consideration of the bench of Delhi High Court consisting of Justice Amit Bansal in the matters between ICICI Banks vs. Rashmi Sharma CM(M)-36/2022 decided on 12.1.2022.

The facts of the case are that the defendant used a vehicle loan from the plaintiff ICICI Bank. When he defaulted on payments, the bank sent him a notice calling back the loan facility. The bank filed a compensation lawsuit against the defendant, after which he was served by the commercial court. The bank then took steps to fulfill the notification of service to the defendant. In addition, the bank sent a photograph of the summons issued by the commercial court to the accused via WhatsApp. In the next hearing, the commercial court decided to give a justified show cause notice to the bank as to why the criminal proceedings were not carried out or launched against them.This situation caused the bank to approach the Supreme Court for the annulment of this decision.

The petitioners contended that there is no contradiction to the decision of the Commercial Court dated 16 August 2021, since the plaintiff has taken steps to serve the defendant both through ordinary service and expedited mail.A transaction fee has been duly incurred for the preparation of notifications for ordinary service by the transaction server and delivery of notifications by express mail to the plaintiff for delivery by express mail.Photograph of the subpoena was duly sent to the defendant via WhatsApp as per the judgment of 16 August 2021, although no steps were taken by the Claimant to serve via email. Photocopy of the summons was sent via WhatsApp only to ensure that the defendants are present at the Commercial Court at the next hearing date.Based on the Supreme Court’s decision during the period of the Supreme Court’s isolation, the service has been used by various electronic means, including WhatsApp.Even if the photograph of the summons was sent to the defendant via WhatsApp, no incidents of contempt less than criminal contempt were committed.

No one appeared on behalf of the respondents despite advance service, whereas, considering facts and circumstances of the case, there is no requirement for issue of notice to the respondents.

The Delhi High Court noted that by sending the summoned photograph to the defendant via WhatsApp, the court did not mean to circumvent the judicial system or to run a parallel system. The court also noted that the bank had paid a processing fee and had taken steps to issue an ordinary summons to the defendant by ordinary process and expedited mail to ensure that the defendant was brought before the commercial court.The court decided that there was no reason for the commercial court to make a figurative reason statement.Likewise, there was nothing malicious and the Court could not say that this was an attempt to circumvent the judicial system.Along with these observations, the lower court decision was annulled to the extent of issuing a show cause notification issued to the bank.

Judgement reviewed by Bhaswati Goldar

ICICI_BANK_LIMITED__v_Rashmi_Sharma

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