Consequence of Trial Court not following well settled law amounts to contempt of Court – SC

The consequence of the Trial Court not following the well-settled law amounts to contempt of Court. Reference in this regard may be made to the judgments given below.

In East India Commercial Co. Ltd. v. Collector of Customs, Calcutta, AIR 1962 SC 1893, Subba Rao, J. speaking for the majority observed reads as under:

―31. ……This raises the question whether an administrative tribunal can ignore the law declared by the highest Court in the State and initiate proceedings in direct violation of the law so declared under Art. 215, every High Court shall be a Court of record and shall have all the powers of such a Court including the power to punish for contempt of itself. Under Art. 226, it has a plenary power to issue orders or writs for the enforcement of the fundamental rights and for any other purpose to any person or authority, including in appropriate cases any Government within its territorial jurisdiction. Under Art. 227 it has jurisdiction over all Courts and tribunals throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction. It would be anomalous to suggest that a tribunal over which the High Court has superintendence can ignore the law declared by that Court and start proceedings in direct violation of it. If a tribunal can do so, all the subordinate Courts can equally do so, for there is no specific provision, just like in the case of Supreme Court, making the law declared by the High Court binding on subordinate Courts. It is implicit in the power of supervision conferred on a superior tribunal that all the tribunals subject to its supervision should conform to the law laid down by it. Such obedience would also be conducive to their smooth working; otherwise there would be confusion in the administration of law and respect for law would irretrievably suffer. We, therefore, hold that the law declared by the highest Court in the State is binding on authorities, or tribunals under its superintendence, and that they cannot ignore it either in initiating a proceeding or deciding on the rights involved in such a proceeding. If that be so, the notice issued by the authority signifying the launching of proceedings, contrary to the law laid down by the High Court would be invalid and the proceedings themselves would be without jurisdiction.”

(Emphasis supplied)

The above legal position was reiterated in Makhan Lal v. State of Jammu and Kashmir, (1971) 1 SCC 749, in which Grover, J. observed (at page 2209)–

“6. The law so declared by this Court was binding on the respondent-State and its officers and they were bound to follow it whether a majority of the present respondents were parties or not in the previous petition.”

(Emphasis supplied)

In Baradakanta Mishra Ex-Commissioner of Endowments v. Bhimsen Dixit, (1973) 1 SCC 446, the appellant therein, a member of Judicial Service of State of Orissa refused to follow the decision of the High Court. The High Court issued a notice of contempt to the appellant and thereafter held him guilty of contempt which was challenged before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held as under:-

“15. The conduct of the appellant in not following previous decisions of the High Court is calculated to create confusion in the administration of law. It will undermine respect for law laid down by the High Court and impair the constitutional authority of the High Court. His conduct is therefore comprehended by the principles underlying the law of Contempt. The analogy of the inferior court‟s disobedience to the specific order of a superior court also suggests that his conduct falls within the purview of the law of Contempt. Just as the disobedience to a specific order of the Court undermines the authority and dignity of the court in a particular case, similarly the deliberate and mala fide conduct of not following the law laid down in the previous decision undermines the constitutional authority and respect of the High Court. Indeed, while the former conduct has repercussions on an individual case and on a limited number of persons, the latter conduct has a much wider and more disastrous impact. It is calculated not only to undermine the constitutional authority and respect of the High Court, generally, but is also likely to subvert the Rule of Law and engender harassing uncertainty and confusion in the administration of law”

(Emphasis supplied)

In Re: M.P. Dwivedi & Ors., (1996) 4 SCC 152, the Supreme Court initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against seven persons including the Judicial Magistrate, who disregarded the law laid down by the Supreme Court against handcuffing of under-trial prisoners.

The Supreme Court held this to be a serious lapse on the part of the Magistrate, who was expected to ensure that basic human rights of the citizens are not violated. The Supreme Court took a lenient view considering that Judicial Magistrate was of young age. The Supreme Court, however, directed that a note of that disapproval to be placed in his personal file. Relevant portion of the said judgment is reproduced hereunder: –

“22. … It appears that the contemner was completely insensitive about the serious violations of the human rights of the undertrial prisoners in the matter of their handcuffing inasmuch as when the prisoners were produced before him in court in handcuffs, he did not think it necessary to take any action for the removal of handcuffs or against the escort party for bringing them to the court in handcuffs and taking them away in handcuffs without his authorisation. This is a serious lapse on the part of the contemner in the discharge of his duties as a judicial officer who is expected to ensure that the basic human rights of the citizens are not violated. Keeping in view that the contemner is a young judicial officer, we refrain from imposing punishment on him. We, however, record our strong disapproval of his conduct and direct that a note of this disapproval by this Court shall be kept in the personal file of the contemner. We also feel that judicial officers should be made aware from time to time of the law laid down by this Court and the High Court, more especially in connection with protection of basic human rights of the people and, for that purpose, short refresher courses may be conducted at regular intervals so that judicial officers are made aware about the developments in the law in the field.”

(Emphasis supplied)

In T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Ashok Khot, (2006) 5 SCC 1, the Supreme Court held that disobedience of the orders of the Court strike at the very root of rule of law on which the judicial system rests and observed as under:-

“5. Disobedience of this Court’s order strikes at the very root of the rule of law on which the judicial system rests. The rule of law is the foundation of a democratic society. Judiciary is the guardian of the rule of law. Hence, it is not only the third pillar but also the central pillar of the democratic State. If the judiciary is to perform its duties and functions effectively and remain true to the spirit with which they are sacredly entrusted to it, the dignity and authority of the courts have to be respected and protected at all costs. Otherwise, the very cornerstone of our constitutional scheme will give way and with it will disappear the rule of law and the civilised life in the society. That is why it is imperative and invariable that courts’ orders are to be followed and complied with.”

(Emphasis supplied)

 In Maninderjit Singh Bitta v. Union of India, (2012) 1 SCC 273, the Supreme Court held as under:-

“26. … Disobedience of orders of the court strikes at the very root of the rule of law on which the judicial system rests. The rule of law is the foundation of a democratic society. Judiciary is the guardian of the rule of law. If the judiciary is to perform its duties and functions effectively and remain true to the spirit with which they are sacredly entrusted, the dignity and authority of the courts have to be respected and protected at all costs…

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29. Lethargy, ignorance, official delays and absence of motivation can hardly be offered as any defence in an action for contempt. Inordinate delay in complying with the orders of the courts has also received judicial criticism. … Inaction or even dormant behaviour by the officers in the highest echelons in the hierarchy of the Government in complying with the directions/orders of this Court certainly amounts to disobedience. … Even a lackadaisical attitude, which itself may not be deliberate or wilful, have not been held to be a sufficient ground of defence in a contempt proceeding.
Obviously, the purpose is to ensure compliance with the orders of the court at the earliest and within stipulated period.‖ (Emphasis supplied)

In Mohammed Ajmal Mohammed Amir Kasab v. State of Maharashtra (2012) 9 SCC 1, the Supreme Court directed that it is the duty and obligation of the magistrate before whom a person accused of committing a cognizable offence is first produced to make him fully aware that it is his right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner and, in case he has no means to engage a lawyer of his choice, it should be provided to him from legal aid at the expense of the State. The Supreme Court further directed that the failure of any magistrate to discharge this duty would amount to dereliction in duty and would made the concerned magistrate liable to departmental proceedings.

The relevant portion of the judgment is reproduced hereunder:

―484. We, therefore have no hesitation in holding that the right to access to legal aid, to consult and to be defended by a legal practitioner, arises when a person arrested in connection with a cognizable offence is first produced before a magistrate. We, accordingly, hold that it is the duty and obligation of the magistrate before whom a person accused of committing a cognizable offence is first produced to make him fully aware that it is his right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner and, in case he has no means to engage a lawyer of his choice, that one would be provided to him from legal aid at the expense of the State. The right flows from Articles 21 and 22(1) of the Constitution and needs to be strictly enforced. We, accordingly, direct all the magistrates in the country to faithfully discharge the aforesaid duty and obligation and further make it clear that any failure to fully discharge the duty would amount to dereliction in duty and would made the concerned magistrate liable to departmental proceedings.‖ (Emphasis supplied)

In Priya Gupta v. Addl. Secy. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and others, (2013) 11 SCC 404, the Supreme Court held as under:-

“12. The government departments are no exception to the consequences of wilful disobedience of the orders of the Court. Violation of the orders of the Court would be its disobedience and would invite action in accordance with law. The orders passed by this Court are the law of the land in terms of Article 141 of the Constitution of India. No court or tribunal and for that matter any other authority can ignore the law stated by this Court. Such obedience would also be conducive to their smooth working, otherwise there would be confusion in the administration of law and the respect for law would irretrievably suffer. There can be no hesitation in holding that the law declared by the higher court in the State is binding on authorities and tribunals under its superintendence and they cannot ignore it. This Court also expressed the view that it had become necessary to reiterate that disrespect to the constitutional ethos and breach of discipline have a grave impact on the credibility of judicial institution and encourages chance litigation. It must be remembered that predictability and certainty are important hallmarks of judicial jurisprudence developed in this country, as discipline is sine qua non for effective and efficient functioning of the judicial system. If the Courts command others to act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and to abide by the rule of law, it is not possible to countenance violation of the constitutional principle by those who are required to lay down the law. (Ref. East India Commercial Co. Ltd. v. Collector of Customs [AIR 1962 SC 1893] and Official Liquidator v. Dayanand [(2008) 10 SCC 1 : (2009) 1 SCC (L&S) 943] .) (SCC p. 57, paras 90-91)

13. These very principles have to be strictly adhered to by the executive and instrumentalities of the State. It is expected that none of these institutions should fall out of line with the requirements of the standard of discipline in order to maintain the dignity of institution and ensure proper administration of justice.

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19. It is true that Section 12 of the Act contemplates disobedience of the orders of the court to be wilful and further that such violation has to be of a specific order or direction of the court. To contend that there cannot be an initiation of contempt proceedings where directions are of a general nature as it would not only be impracticable, but even impossible to regulate such orders of the court, is an argument which does not impress the court. As already noticed, the Constitution has placed upon the judiciary, the responsibility to interpret the law and ensure proper administration of justice. In carrying out these constitutional functions, the courts have to ensure that dignity of the court, process of court and respect for administration of justice is maintained. Violations which are likely to impinge upon the faith of the public in administration of justice and the court system must be punished, to prevent repetition of such behaviour and the adverse impact on public faith. With the development of law, the courts have issued directions and even spelt out in their judgments, certain guidelines, which are to be operative till proper legislations are enacted. The directions of the court which are to provide transparency in action and adherence to basic law and fair play must be enforced and obeyed by all concerned. The law declared by this Court whether in the form of a substantive judgment inter se a party or are directions of a general nature which are intended to achieve the constitutional goals of equality and equal opportunity must be adhered to and there cannot be an artificial distinction drawn in between such class of cases. Whichever class they may belong to, a contemnor cannot build an argument to the effect that the disobedience is of a general direction and not of a specific order issued inter se parties.

Such distinction, if permitted, shall be opposed to the basic rule of law.

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23. … The essence of contempt jurisprudence is to ensure obedience of orders of the Court and, thus, to maintain the rule of law. History tells us how a State is protected by its courts and an independent judiciary is the cardinal pillar of the progress of a stable Government. If over-enthusiastic executive attempts to belittle the importance of the court and its judgments and orders, and also lowers down its prestige and confidence before the people, then greater is the necessity for taking recourse to such power in the interest and safety of the public at large. The power to punish for contempt is inherent in the very nature and purpose of the court of justice. In our country, such power is codified…‖ (Emphasis supplied)

In Subrata Roy Sahara v. Union of India (2014) 8 SCC 470, the Supreme Court held that the decisions rendered by the Supreme Court have to be complied with by all concerned. Relevant portion of the said judgment is as under: –

―17. There is no escape from, acceptance, or obedience, or compliance of an order passed by the Supreme Court, which is the final and the highest Court, in the country. Where would we find ourselves, if the Parliament or a State Legislature insists, that a statutory provision struck down as unconstitutional, is valid? Or, if a decision rendered by the Supreme Court, in exercise of its original jurisdiction, is not accepted for compliance, by either the Government of India, and/or one or the other State Government(s) concerned? What if, the concerned government or instrumentality, chooses not to give effect to a Court order, declaring the fundamental right of a citizen? Or, a determination rendered by a Court to give effect to a legal right, is not acceptable for compliance? Where would we be, if decisions on private disputes rendered between private individuals, are not complied with? The answer though preposterous, is not far-fetched. In view of the functional position of the Supreme Court depicted above, non-compliance of its orders, would dislodge the cornerstone maintaining the equilibrium and equanimity in the country’s governance. There would be a breakdown of constitutional functioning, It would be a mayhem of sorts.

185.2. Disobedience of orders of a Court strikes at the very root of the rule of law on which the judicial system rests. Judicial orders are bound to be obeyed at all costs. Howsoever grave the effect may be, is no answer for non-
compliance with a judicial order. Judicial orders cannot be permitted to be circumvented. In exercise of the contempt jurisdiction, courts have the power to enforce compliance with judicial orders, and also, the power to punish for contempt.‖

In State of Gujarat v. Secretary, Labour Social Welfare and Tribunal Development Deptt. Sachivalaya, 1982 CriLJ 2255, the Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court summarized the principles as under:-

“11. From the above four decisions, the following propositions emerge:

(1) It is immaterial that in a previous litigation the particular petitioner before the Court was or was not a party, but if a law on a particular point has been laid down by the High Court, it must be followed by all authorities and tribunals in the State;
(2) The law laid down by the High Court must be followed by all authorities and subordinate tribunals when it has been declared by the highest Court in the State and they cannot ignore it either in initiating proceedings or deciding on the rights involved in such a proceeding;
(3) If in spite of the earlier exposition of law by the High Court having been pointed out and attention being pointedly drawn to that legal position, in utter disregard of that position, proceedings are initiated, it must be held to be a wilful disregard of the law laid down by the High Court and would amount to civil contempt as defined in section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.”
(Emphasis supplied)

 In the present case, the Trial Court has dared not to follow the well settled law laid down in Alopi Parshad & Sons v. Union of India (supra), Panna Lal v. State of Rajasthan (supra), State Bank of Haryana v. Jage Ram (supra) Har Shankar v. Deputy Excise and Taxation Commissioner (supra)New Bihar Biri Leaves Co. v. State of Bihar (supra), C. Bepathumma v. V.S. Kadambolithaya, Assistant Excise Commissioner v. Issac Peter (supra), Puravankara Projects Ltd. v. Hotel Venus International (supra), Bharti Cellular Limited v. Union of India (supra), Mumbai International Airport Private Limited v. Golden Chariot Airport, (supra), Track Innovations India Pvt. Ltd. v. Union Of India, (supra), C.J. International Hotels Ltd. v. N.D.M.C., (supra), State of Haryana. v. Khalsa Motors Ltd. (supra), B. Sharma Rao H. Ganeshmal v. Head Quarters Asstt. (supra), Union of India v. Ibrahim Uddin (supra) Ram Sarup Gupta v. Bishun Narain Inter College (supra) Corporation of Calicut v. K Sreenivasan (supra), Ratlam Straw Board Mills Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India (supra) Rampur Distillery and Chemicals Co. Ltd. v. Union of India (supra) M/s Maharaji Education Trust v. Punjab and Sind Bank (supra) and Aggarwal and Modi Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. v. New Delhi Municipal Committee (supra),

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