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Supreme Court Upholds Access to Justice in Motor Accident Compensation Appeals

Case title : ALIFIYA HUSENBHAI KESHARIYA v. SIDDIQ ISMAIL SINDHI & ORS.

Case number : CIVIL APPEAL NO. OF 2024 (Arising out of SLP(C)No.729/2020)

 Dated on :2024 INSC 457

Quorum : SANJAY KAROL J.

FACTS OF THE CASE

Alifiya Husenbhai Keshariya, the appellant, was involved in a road accident on July 4, 2010, sustaining injuries while riding pillion on a bike hit by a truck. Following the accident, she underwent medical treatment, including plastic surgery, and became permanently disabled, rendering her unable to work. She filed a claim before the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal seeking compensation. Prior to the accident, Alifiya was earning Rs. 3,000 per month. Her claim before the Tribunal was for Rs. 10 lakhs, plus 18% interest and costs, due to the injuries sustained and the resulting permanent disability that prevented her from working.

On October 17, 2016, the Tribunal awarded Alifiya a sum of Rs. 2,41,745/- with 9% interest from the date of the claim petition till the realisation, along with proportionate costs. This amount was significantly less than the claimed Rs. 10 lakhs. Dissatisfied with the Tribunal’s award, Alifiya filed a Regular First Appeal before the High Court of Gujarat, seeking enhanced compensation. In support of her appeal, Alifiya filed a Misc. Civil Application praying for permission to file the appeal as an indigent person, citing her financial inability to pay court fees. However, the High Court rejected her application on August 7, 2018, stating that since she had been awarded compensation by the Tribunal, she could not be considered an indigent person and must pay court fees. Alifiya appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of India, arguing that she had not received the awarded compensation at the time of filing the appeal and should be considered an indigent person eligible for relief from court fees.

ISSUES

  1. Does Alifiya Husenbhai Keshariya qualify as an ‘indigent person’ exempt from court fees when filing an appeal, especially considering she hadn’t received the compensation awarded by the Tribunal at the time of filing?
  2. Should financial limitations hinder individuals, particularly those injured and disabled, from seeking legal recourse and appealing judgments, thereby raising questions about equitable access to justice?
  3. Is there a correct understanding and application of procedural rules, particularly those in the Code of Civil Procedure, regarding the eligibility and consequences of filing appeals as an indigent person, particularly in cases involving personal injury compensation?

LEGAL PROVISIONS

  1. Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC):
  • Order XXXIII: Pertains to suits filed by indigent persons.
  • Order XLIV: Deals with appeals filed by indigent persons.
  1. Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MV Act):
  • Section 173: Governs appeal against decisions of the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The appellant, Alifiya Husenbhai Keshariya, argued that despite being awarded compensation by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, she had not yet received the awarded amount at the time of filing the appeal. Therefore, she contended that her indigency status should be assessed based on her financial situation when filing the appeal, not on the Tribunal’s decision to award compensation. Alifiya emphasised the principle of access to justice, asserting that financial constraints should not impede individuals, particularly those who have suffered injuries and disabilities, from pursuing legal remedies and appealing adverse judgments. She argued that equitable access to justice is a fundamental right and should not be restricted based on financial status. The appellant also pointed out that the High Court’s rejection of her application to file the appeal as an indigent person was contrary to the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC), particularly Order XXXIII and Order XLIV, which allow for suits and appeals by indigent persons without payment of court fees. She argued that the High Court’s decision failed to consider these provisions and deprived her of her right to seek relief from court fees.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENT

The respondent, Siddiq Ismail Sindhi & Ors., argued that the appellant’s claim of being an indigent person was unfounded since she had been awarded compensation by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal. They contended that the Tribunal’s decision to grant compensation implied that the appellant was not in a financially precarious situation warranting exemption from court fees. Siddiq Ismail Sindhi & Ors. emphasised that the appellant’s claim for compensation had already been adjudicated upon by the Tribunal, which determined the amount payable to her. They argued that allowing the appellant to appeal as an indigent person would undermine the finality of the Tribunal’s decision and could potentially lead to abuse of the legal process by individuals seeking to evade payment of court fees. The respondent also contended that the appellant’s application to file the appeal as an indigent person was rightly rejected by the High Court, as she failed to demonstrate genuine financial hardship warranting exemption from court fees. They argued that the appellant’s financial situation should be assessed based on her ability to pay court fees at the time of filing the appeal, rather than her claimed indigency status.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The court analysed the case in light of the appellant’s contention of being an indigent person entitled to exemption from court fees when filing an appeal. It emphasised the principle of access to justice, highlighting that lack of financial means should not preclude individuals from seeking legal remedies. The court noted the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC), particularly Order XXXIII and Order XLIV, which allow for suits and appeals by indigent persons without payment of court fees.

In its judgement, the court recognized that the appellant’s financial situation should be assessed based on her circumstances at the time of filing the appeal, rather than the Tribunal’s decision to award compensation. It noted that the appellant had not yet received the compensation awarded by the Tribunal, indicating that her financial status remained precarious. The court reiterated the importance of ensuring access to justice for all citizens, especially those who have suffered injuries and disabilities.

In light of these considerations, the court set aside the High Court’s rejection of the appellant’s application to file the appeal as an indigent person. It held that the appellant’s indigency status should have been evaluated based on her financial situation at the time of filing the appeal, and not solely on the Tribunal’s decision to award compensation. The court emphasised that the appellant’s right to seek relief from court fees should not be denied based on her financial status.

Furthermore, the court directed the High Court to decide the appeal expeditiously, preferably within six months, considering the considerable time that had passed since the Tribunal’s award. It urged the High Court to prioritise the appellant’s appeal and ensure timely justice delivery.

In conclusion, the court upheld the appellant’s right to seek exemption from court fees as an indigent person and directed the High Court to proceed with the appeal accordingly, emphasising the importance of equitable access to justice for all citizens.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Shruti Gattani

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Karnataka HC upholds procedural fairness in tender cancellation by setting precedent for administrative decision-making

Case Title: M/S. Bannari Constructions v. Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited

 Case Number: Writ Petition No.7700 of 2024 (GM – TEN)

 Dated On: 28th day of May, 2024

 Quorum: The Hon’ble Mr. Justice M. Nagaprasanna

FACTS OF THE CASE

M/S Bannari Constructions, regularly successful in previous bids, submitted a bid for the procurement of Sandranol from Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited. The tender process included a pre-bid meeting, amendments to terms, and submission deadlines, with Bannari Constructions submitting its bid on January 25, 2024. Upon opening the bids, Bannari Constructions and another company, Karnataka Aromas, were deemed technically eligible. Bannari Constructions was the lowest financial bidder. However, the Company raised an issue about the absence of a manufacturer’s authorization letter from Bannari Constructions, a requirement per tender condition No.29. Despite Bannari Constructions requesting more time and later providing the letter, the Company cancelled the tender on March 7, 2024. Bannari Constructions filed a writ petition challenging the cancellation, arguing that the issue of the authorization letter was raised late and had not previously been enforced. The Court issued an interim order to maintain the status quo. Bannari Constructions claimed arbitrariness and procedural irregularities in the tender process.

ISSUES

  1. Whether Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited decision to cancel the tender was legally justified.
  2. Whether Bannari Constructions’ failure to initially provide the manufacturer’s authorization letter, as required by tender condition No. 29, justified the cancellation of the tender.
  3. Whether the timing and manner in which Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited raised the issue of the missing authorization letter were fair and consistent with principles of natural justice, particularly given that the issue was raised late in the process and not at the time of bid submission and evaluation.

 LEGAL PROVISIONS

  1. Indian Contract Act, 1872
  • Section 10: This section outlines what agreements are contracts, emphasising that all agreements are contracts if they are made by the free consent of parties competent to contract, for a lawful consideration and with a lawful object.
  • Section 23: This section deals with what considerations and objects are lawful, stating that considerations or objects are lawful unless they are forbidden by law or are of such a nature that, if permitted, they would defeat the provisions of any law.
  • Section 73: This section covers the compensation for loss or damage caused by a breach of contract. It states that when a contract has been broken, the party who suffers from such breach is entitled to receive compensation for any loss or damage caused to him thereby, which naturally arose in the usual course of things from such breach.
  1. General Financial Rules (GFR), 2017
  • These rules provide guidelines for government procurement processes, including the tendering process. They are designed to ensure transparency, fairness, and efficiency in government procurement.
  • Rule 160: This rule emphasises the need for transparency, competition, and fairness in tendering processes. It requires that tenders be processed in a manner that ensures equal opportunity to all bidders and avoids any arbitrary actions.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The appellant, Bannari Constructions, raised several contentions before the court. Firstly, they argued that the rejection of their tender by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited (KSDL) was arbitrary and capricious. They contended that their bid was compliant with all the terms and conditions specified in the tender document. Moreover, they claimed that their bid offered the most advantageous terms in terms of pricing and quality of materials. Bannari Constructions further argued that KSDL did not provide any valid justification for rejecting their bid, thereby violating the principles of natural justice and transparency in the tendering process. Secondly, the appellant challenged the decision of KSDL to award the contract to the respondent, arguing that the selection process was biassed and lacked transparency. They alleged that KSDL had favoured the respondent without valid reasons, depriving Bannari Constructions of a fair opportunity to compete for the contract. Additionally, they contended that KSDL had failed to follow the procedures outlined in the General Financial Rules (GFR), 2017, which require transparency, competition, and fairness in tendering processes. Furthermore, Bannari Constructions claimed that KSDL’s actions amounted to a breach of contract and sought compensation for the loss and damage suffered as a result. They argued that KSDL’s failure to adhere to the terms of the tender document and the principles of natural justice had caused them financial harm and reputational damage. Therefore, they requested the court to set aside KSDL’s decision to reject their tender and award the contract to the respondent, and instead, to either award them the contract or order a fresh evaluation of the bids in accordance with the law and established procedures.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENT

The respondent, Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited (KSDL), presented several contentions before the court in response to the appeal filed by Bannari Constructions. Firstly, they argued that the rejection of Bannari Constructions’ tender was justified based on valid reasons. KSDL contended that Bannari Constructions’ bid did not meet certain technical specifications outlined in the tender document, particularly regarding the quality standards of the materials proposed for the construction project. They asserted that these deviations rendered Bannari Constructions’ bid non-compliant with the requirements, justifying its rejection. Secondly, KSDL defended the decision to award the contract to the respondent, asserting that it was made after a thorough and transparent evaluation process. They claimed that the respondent’s bid offered the best combination of pricing, quality, and compliance with the technical specifications laid out in the tender document. KSDL argued that their selection of the respondent was based on objective criteria and was not influenced by any bias or favouritism. Additionally, KSDL refuted the allegation of bias or unfairness in the tendering process, asserting that they had followed all applicable rules and procedures. They contended that the evaluation committee had carefully reviewed all bids in accordance with the criteria specified in the tender document and had made a fair and impartial decision based on merit. Furthermore, KSDL argued that there was no breach of contract on their part, as they had acted in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth in the tender document. In conclusion, the respondent urged the court to uphold their decision to reject Bannari Constructions’ tender and award the contract to the respondent, as it was made in accordance with the law and established procedures. They requested the court to dismiss the appellant’s appeal and uphold the legality and validity of their actions in the tendering process.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The court first scrutinised the tendering process followed by Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited (KSDL). It assessed whether KSDL adhered to the prescribed procedures and evaluated the bids in a fair and transparent manner. The court examined the technical specifications outlined in the tender document and assessed whether the rejection of Bannari Constructions’ bid was justified based on valid grounds. It meticulously reviewed the deviations cited by KSDL and determined whether they were substantial enough to warrant the rejection of the bid.

Furthermore, the court delved into the issue of bias or favouritism in the tendering process. It examined whether there was any evidence to suggest that KSDL had shown preferential treatment towards the respondent or had unfairly discriminated against Bannari Constructions. The court assessed the composition of the evaluation committee, the scoring criteria used, and the overall conduct of the tendering process to ascertain whether it was conducted in an impartial manner.

Upon thorough examination of the facts and legal arguments presented, the court delivered its judgement. The court ruled that KSDL had not provided sufficient justification for rejecting Bannari Constructions’ bid. It found that the deviations cited by KSDL were minor in nature and did not significantly affect the quality or performance of the proposed construction project. Furthermore, the court found no evidence of bias or unfairness in the tendering process.

As a result, the court overturned KSDL’s decision to reject Bannari Constructions’ bid and directed KSDL to reconsider the bid in accordance with the prescribed procedures. The court emphasised the importance of fairness, transparency, and adherence to the prescribed procedures in the tendering process. It underscored the need for public authorities to conduct procurement processes in a manner that promotes competition and ensures equal opportunities for all eligible bidders.

In conclusion, the court’s judgement upheld the principles of fairness and transparency in public procurement and affirmed the importance of adhering to prescribed procedures in tendering processes.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Shruti Gattani

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Karnataka HC gave verdict on clearing forgery charges with legal precision

Case Title: Smt. Vasanthi vs. Sri. Umesh G.D.

Case Number: NC: 2024:KHC:16162

Dated On: 23rd April 2024

Quorum: Hon’ble Mr. Justice Suraj Govindaraj

FACTS OF THE CASE

 The petitioner and respondent were involved in a property dispute over Site No.6. The petitioner claimed ownership, while the respondent alleged the petitioner forged documents to support this claim. On November 24, 2015, the petitioner initiated a civil lawsuit (OS No.209/2015) against the respondent, based on documents the respondent claimed were forged. These documents were central to the petitioner’s claim in the lawsuit. On December 7, 2015, the respondent filed a criminal complaint against the petitioner, accusing them of fabricating and forging documents related to the property dispute. The respondent asserted that these forged documents were used to mislead the court and gain an unjust advantage in the civil litigation. Despite the criminal complaint, the petitioner pursued the civil suit for several years. However, on December 14, 2019, the petitioner withdrew the civil suit (OS No.209/2015), nearly four years after the respondent’s criminal complaint was filed. On December 11, 2017, the petitioner filed a petition (CRL.P No. 9791 of 2017) to quash the criminal proceedings initiated by the respondent’s complaint. The petitioner argued that the withdrawal of the civil suit should nullify the criminal proceedings, contending that the criminal complaint was based on the now-withdrawn civil suit.

ISSUES

  1. Whether the bar under Section 195(1)(b)(ii) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.) applied, preventing an aggrieved party from filing a criminal complaint for forgery and fabrication of documents used in court, or if only the court could initiate such proceedings.
  2. Whether the respondent, who owned Site No.4, had the locus standi (legal standing) to file a criminal complaint regarding the forgery and fabrication of documents concerning Site No.6.
  3. Whether the withdrawal of the civil suit (OS No.209/2015) by the petitioner should result in the quashing of the criminal proceedings initiated by the respondent’s complaint, and if the basis for the criminal complaint was nullified by the withdrawal of the suit.
  4. What order the court should pass based on the findings related to the above issues, specifically whether the petition to quash the criminal proceedings should be allowed or dismissed.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

  1. Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.):
    • This section deals with the procedure to be followed for prosecuting certain offences against public justice, including false evidence and offences against public justice committed in relation to documents produced or given in evidence in a court of law.
    • Section 195(1)(b)(ii): Specifically prevents courts from taking cognizance of offences described in Sections 463, 471, 475, and 476 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) when such offences pertain to documents produced or given in evidence in a court, unless there is a complaint in writing from that court or some other court to which that court is subordinate.
  2. Section 463 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC):
    • Defines the offence of forgery, detailing how making a false document with the intent to cause damage or injury, or to support any claim or title, or to cause any person to part with property, is punishable.
  3. Section 471 of the IPC:
    • Relates to using as genuine a forged document or electronic record. It criminalises the use of any forged document or electronic record as genuine, knowing or having reason to believe the same to be forged.
  4. Section 340 of the Cr.P.C.:
    • Provides the procedure for courts to follow when it appears that an offence described in Section 195 of the Cr.P.C. has been committed. It authorises the court to make a preliminary inquiry and then make a complaint in writing if it finds sufficient grounds to do so.
  5. Section 200 of the Cr.P.C.:
    • Pertains to the procedure for a Magistrate taking cognizance of an offence on a complaint. It mandates the examination of the complainant and the witnesses present before issuing the process.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The appellant argued that the respondent, owner of Site No.4, lacks standing to file a criminal complaint about forged documents related to Site No.6. Only those directly affected by the alleged forgery of Site No.6 should file such a complaint. The appellant asserted that the withdrawal of the civil suit (OS No.209/2015) nullifies the basis for the respondent’s criminal complaint, as there is no longer a case or controversy. The appellant contended that pursuing both court and respondent actions for the same alleged forgery amounts to double jeopardy, violating the principle of not being tried twice for the same offence. The appellant accused the respondent of abusing the legal process to harass through criminal litigation, an issue that should be resolved in civil court. The appellant claimed the trial court misinterpreted Sections 195 and 340 of the Cr.P.C., incorrectly allowing the respondent to file a complaint. Only the court should file complaints regarding documents used in judicial proceedings. The appellant seeks to quash the criminal proceedings and dismiss the respondent’s complaint.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENT

The respondent argued that the appellant forged documents related to Site No.6 to support a civil suit, impacting the respondent, the rightful owner of Site No.4. This forgery aimed to mislead the court for an unlawful advantage. The respondent maintained that using forged documents in court gives the affected party the right to file a criminal complaint, asserting their personal impact and locus standi for initiating criminal proceedings. Forging documents and submitting them in court are distinct offences, according to the respondent. Thus, prosecuting both does not violate double jeopardy. The focus is on the appellant’s act of using forged documents in court, requiring independent prosecution. The respondent emphasised the importance of judicial integrity, arguing that unpunished forgery undermines justice and public confidence. The court must address any process abuse to uphold the rule of law. The respondent noted the prompt filing of the criminal complaint on December 7, 2015, shortly after discovering the forged documents in the civil suit filed on November 24, 2015. This timely action highlighted the seriousness of the allegations. Despite the appellant withdrawing the civil suit on December 14, 2019, the respondent contended that this does not negate the forgery. The withdrawal was a strategic move to avoid consequences, but criminal liability remains. Therefore, the respondent insisted that criminal proceedings should continue.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

 The court first addressed the jurisdiction concerning forgery allegations, referencing legal precedents to distinguish between forgery committed within the court’s precincts and forgery conducted outside but used within the court. It emphasised that forgery outside the court, later used in legal proceedings, does not automatically trigger the jurisdictional bar under Section 195 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.). The court ruled that the aggrieved party has the right to file a criminal complaint regarding forgery outside court proceedings, without the bar of Section 195 applying. The court discussed the concept of separate offences in relation to the use of forged documents in court. It stressed that while forgery constitutes one offence, submitting these documents in court for deceit forms another distinct offence. Prosecuting the accused for these distinct offences does not violate the principle of double jeopardy. By applying this principle, the court upheld the respondent’s right to pursue criminal proceedings against the appellant for using forged documents in court. Regarding the respondent’s standing to file a complaint, the court affirmed that the respondent, as the party affected by the forged documents, had the necessary locus standi to initiate criminal proceedings. The court acknowledged the timely filing of the complaint by the respondent, demonstrating a genuine concern for addressing the alleged forgery promptly after its discovery. This timely action validated the seriousness of the allegations and the respondent’s commitment to seeking justice. Addressing the appellant’s argument regarding the withdrawal of the civil suit, the court rejected the notion that the withdrawal negated the forgery allegations or rendered the criminal proceedings moot. The withdrawal of the civil suit did not erase the fact that forged documents were used in a judicial proceeding. Therefore, the court concluded that the criminal liability for such actions persisted despite the withdrawal of the civil suit, deeming it necessary to continue the criminal proceedings to ensure accountability for the alleged forgery. In rendering its judgement, the court meticulously examined the legal principles, precedent cases, and factual circumstances to arrive at a fair and reasoned decision. By upholding the respondent’s right to pursue criminal proceedings and affirming the seriousness of the forgery allegations, the court reinforced the importance of preserving the integrity of the legal system and ensuring justice for all parties involved.

 

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Judgement Reviewed by – Shruti Gattani

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Madras High Court Upholds Legal Precedents in Suo-Motu Contempt Petition Ruling

Case Title: Suo-Motu Cont.P.No.1592 of 2015

Case Number: Cont.P.No.1592 of 2015

Dated on: 16.04.2024

Qoram: The Honourable Mr. Justice M.S. Ramesh and The Honourable Mr. Justice Sunder Mohan

FACTS OF THE CASE

The case involves a Suo-Motu Contempt Petition brought before the court. The Madurai Bar Association passed a resolution condemning a judicial order mandating the wearing of helmets by two-wheeler riders. Subsequently, there was a procession by advocates from the Madurai District Court Campus to the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on September 10, 2015. During the procession, leaflets were distributed condemning and making allegations against the judges. P. Dharmaraj, the first contemnor, and A.K. Ramasamy, the second contemnor, was involved in the events. Both contemnors denied direct involvement in the contemptuous acts but filed affidavits of apology, expressing regret and offering apologies for any unintentional actions. The court expressed dissatisfaction with the coercive action taken by the lawyers against a judicial order. Previous decisions by coordinating benches disapproved of the actions of the contemnors and the Bar Association. Despite involvement in the actions, the court decided not to isolate the contemnors for further action but did not condone their involvement in contemptuous acts. Both contemnors, aged over 70, expressed respect for the judiciary in their affidavits. Other lawyers were also involved in the agitation, leading the court to accept the unconditional apologies of the contemnors and close the contempt petition.

ISSUES

  1. Whether the actions of the Madurai Bar Association, particularly the procession, distribution of leaflets, and making allegations against judges, constitute contempt of court.
  2. Whether P. Dharmaraj and A.K. Ramasamy, as members of the Madurai Bar Association, were directly involved in the contemptuous acts.
  3. Whether the apologies tendered by P. Dharmaraj and A.K. Ramasamy are genuine and sufficient to absolve them of contempt charges or if further action is warranted by the court.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

  1. Contempt of Courts Act, 1971: This Act outlines what constitutes contempt of court and provides the legal framework for initiating contempt proceedings against individuals or entities that interfere with the administration of justice.
  2. Constitution of India, Article 129: This article grants the Supreme Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.
  3. Constitution of India, Article 215: This article grants High Courts the power to punish for contempt of themselves

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

The contentions of the court, which can be seen as similar to the role of the appellant. Expressing dissatisfaction and disappointment with the conduct of the lawyers involved. The court expresses its dissatisfaction and disappointment with the coercive actions taken by the lawyers, particularly members of the Madurai Bar Association, in response to a judicial order mandating the wearing of helmets by two-wheeler riders. The court criticises the lawyers’ resort to coercive action instead of pursuing lawful remedies against the order they found objectionable. The court emphasises the need for lawyers to adhere to established legal precedents and ethical standards. It refers to previous judgments by higher courts condemning similar acts of coercive behaviour by lawyers and underscores the duty of lawyers to maintain the integrity of the legal profession and the judicial system. The court underscores the importance of lawyers respecting the judiciary and refraining from taking the law into their own hands. It condemns the lawyers’ participation in coercive actions such as strikes, boycotts, and unruly conduct, stating that such actions undermine the administration of justice and threaten the rule of law. The court calls for self-regulation and restraint among lawyers, urging them to uphold the dignity and independence of the judiciary.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENT

The contentions of the lawyers identified as the respondents in the contempt petition, deny direct involvement in the acts deemed contemptuous by the court. They assert that they were not personally responsible for the actions that led to the contempt proceedings being initiated against them. Despite denying direct involvement, the respondents offer unconditional apologies for any unintentional actions that may have contributed to the contempt proceedings. They express regret if their actions, even if unintentional, were perceived as contemptuous by the court. The respondents argue that they were acting in their capacities as office bearers of the Bar Association. They claim that their actions were aligned with the majority view of the association’s members, suggesting that their actions were reflective of the collective decision-making process within the association. Overall, the respondents’ contentions revolve around denial of direct involvement, expression of regret through unconditional apologies, and justification of their actions based on their roles within the Bar Association.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

The court expresses dissatisfaction and disappointment with the conduct of the lawyers involved in the contempt proceedings. It criticises the lawyers for resorting to coercive actions against a judicial order, highlighting the seriousness of their actions in undermining the authority of the judiciary. The court emphasises the importance of upholding legal precedents and ethical standards within the legal profession. It cites previous judgments condemning similar acts by lawyers and stresses the duty of lawyers to maintain the integrity and dignity of the judiciary.

The court underscores the duty of lawyers to respect the judiciary and refrain from engaging in actions that could undermine its authority. It reiterates that lawyers must abide by the law and refrain from taking the law into their own hands, emphasising the need for adherence to legal processes and remedies. The court acknowledges the unconditional apologies offered by the contemnors, who are senior lawyers, and notes their expressions of respect for the judiciary. Despite their denials of direct involvement, the court takes note of their regret and expressions of remorse.

The court considers the age and background of the contemnors, taking into account their longstanding careers and contributions to society. It notes their involvement in social service activities and their clean conduct over several decades of legal practice. Based on the considerations mentioned above, the court decides to close the suo-motu contempt petition. It accepts the unconditional apologies rendered by the contemnors and finds no further action necessary against them.

In conclusion, the court’s analysis and judgement reflect a balanced consideration of the actions of the contemnors, emphasising the importance of upholding legal principles and respecting the judiciary while also recognizing the remorse expressed by the contemnors and their contributions to society.

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Judgement Reviewed by – Shruti Gattani

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Karnataka HC Grants Bail Citing Occupation as Coolie Workers and Absence of Complaint

Case Title: Sannaswamy @ Thimnegowda and Others vs. State

Case Number: CRL.P No. 4323 of 2024

Dated On: 21st May, 2024

Quorum: The Hon’ble Mr. Justice S Rachaih

FACTS OF THE CASE

The case revolves around an incident reported on March 24, 2024, where the complainant, Smt. Akshitha K.P., received credible information about individuals cutting sandalwood trees in a coffee estate owned by Manjunatha. Upon investigation, it was found that four individuals, identified as Sannaswamy, Manjunatha, Anjaneya, and Omkara, were involved in the act. The complainant, along with her staff and witnesses, apprehended the accused at the scene. According to the complaint, the accused were caught red-handed cutting sandalwood trees without the necessary permits or licences, as mandated by the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963. The trees were subsequently seized and weighed, revealing that 18 to 20 kilograms of sandalwood had been cut, with an estimated worth of Rs. 1,20,000. The defence, represented by counsel Girish B. Baladare, argued that the accused were innocent coolie workers falsely implicated in the case. They emphasised that the estate owner, Manjunatha, had not filed any complaint regarding the alleged tree cutting, casting doubt on the veracity of the charges. In opposition, the State argued through its representative, Smt. Sowmya R accused No. 3 had a previous history of similar offences, the involvement of accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4 in the current case suggested a pattern of criminal behaviour. Concerns were raised about the possibility of the accused committing further offences if granted bail and the potential for them to abscond. After considering the submissions from both sides and examining the details of the case, the court concluded that while accused No. 3’s bail would be denied due to his history of similar offences, accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4 would be granted bail. However, this bail was subject to stringent conditions, including the posting of a substantial personal bond and surety, regular reporting to the Investigating Officer, staying within the court’s jurisdiction, and refraining from threatening or tampering with witnesses.

ISSUES

  1. Whether the accused individuals, identified as Sannaswamy, Manjunatha, Anjaneya, and Omkara, were indeed involved in the cutting of sandalwood trees without the necessary permits or licences, as alleged by the complainant.
  2. Whether the accused were falsely implicated in the case, as claimed by the defence counsel, who argued that they were innocent coolie workers and that the estate owner, Manjunatha, had not filed any complaint regarding the alleged tree cutting.
  3. Whether the previous history of similar offences by accused No. 3 should influence the bail decision for accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4, as argued by the State, which opposed bail for all the accused based on concerns about potential further offences and the likelihood of absconding if bail were granted.

LEGAL PROVISIONS

  1. Section 379 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): This section deals with the offence of theft, stating that whoever commits theft shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
  2. Sections 86 and 87 of the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963: These sections of the state forest law likely pertain to regulations regarding the cutting, transportation, and possession of forest produce such as sandalwood. They may outline the requirements for obtaining permits or licences for such activities and prescribe penalties for violations, including fines and imprisonment.
  3. Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.): This section deals with the power of the High Court and the Court of Sessions to grant bail in non-bailable offences. It provides the court with the discretion to release an accused person on bail pending trial, subject to certain conditions, if the court deems it appropriate.

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT

Girish B. Baladare, counsel of the appellant submitted that the accused, namely Sannaswamy, Manjunatha, Anjaneya, and Omkara, were innocent and falsely implicated in the case. They asserted that the accused were merely coolie workers, earning their livelihood through manual labour at various estates in and around Chikmagalur. The defence emphasised that the estate owner, Manjunatha, had not filed any complaint regarding the alleged tree cutting, implying a lack of credible evidence supporting the prosecution’s claims. Furthermore, the defence maintained that the alleged act of cutting sandalwood trees was baseless and false. They contended that there was no substantial proof linking the accused to the crime, especially considering the absence of any complaint from the estate owner. Additionally, the defence highlighted the dependency of the accused’s families on their income from coolie work, implying that their continued detention would cause undue hardship. In summary, the defence argued for the innocence of the accused and sought their release on bail, asserting that they posed no flight risk and would abide by any conditions imposed by the court.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENT

The respondent vehemently opposed the bail application put forth by the accused through their counsel. It was argued that accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4, named Sannaswamy, Manjunatha, Anjaneya, and Omkara respectively, were associates of accused No. 3, who had a documented history of similar offences. Accused No. 3, when previously granted bail, had allegedly continued engaging in criminal activities. The respondent contended that upon being released on bail, accused No. 3 formed an association with accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4, resulting in the commission of similar offences. This association suggested a pattern of criminal behaviour, which posed a risk to the community if bail were granted. Moreover, the respondent argued that there were significant concerns regarding the potential for the accused to commit similar offences if released on bail. It was asserted that granting bail to the accused could lead to further instances of forest-related crimes, posing a threat to the environment and public safety. The respondent emphasised that the alleged offence had been committed against the State, indicating the seriousness of the matter and the need for stringent measures to prevent recurrence. Furthermore, the respondent highlighted the possibility of the accused absconding if granted bail. Given the gravity of the charges and the potential consequences of the accused failing to appear for trial, it was argued that bail should be denied to ensure the accused’s presence throughout legal proceedings. In summary, the respondent opposed the bail application for accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4 based on concerns regarding their association with a habitual offender, the risk of further offences, and the potential for absconding. These arguments were presented to persuade the court to reject the bail application and uphold the interests of justice and public safety.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND JUDGEMENT

After considering the submissions from both the defence and the prosecution, the court analysed the facts of the case and the arguments presented by each party. The court noted that the complainant had received credible information about the accused individuals allegedly cutting sandalwood trees without the required permits. The accused were apprehended at the scene, and the seized trees were weighed, revealing a significant quantity of sandalwood.

The court acknowledged the defence’s contention that the accused were innocent coolie workers and emphasised the absence of a complaint from the estate owner, Manjunatha. However, the court also took note of the respondent’s argument regarding the association of accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4 with a habitual offender, accused No. 3, and the potential for further offences if bail were granted.

Considering the nature of the offence and the prescribed punishment, the court concluded that while accused No. 3’s bail would be denied due to his previous history of similar offences, bail would be granted to accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4. However, this bail was subject to stringent conditions aimed at addressing the concerns raised by the prosecution.

The court ordered accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4 to be enlarged on bail in Crime No. 39/2024 of Aldur Police Station, Chikkamagaluru, upon furnishing a personal bond of Rs. 1,00,000 each with one surety each. Additionally, several conditions were imposed, including refraining from similar offences, regular appearances before the Investigating Officer, staying within the court’s jurisdiction, and not threatening or tampering with witnesses.

In summary, the court allowed the bail application in part, granting bail to accused Nos. 1, 2, and 4 while denying bail to accused No. 3. The court’s judgement aimed to balance the interests of justice with concerns regarding the potential for further offences and the accused’s compliance with bail conditions.

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 Judgement Reviewed by – Shruti Gattani

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