“Baseless and reckless allegations of corruption against judges scandalizes judiciary and interferes or tends to substantially interfere with the due course of justice if the allegation of corruption is unsubstantiated”– Delhi High Court
Coming down heavily on advocate Seema Sapra for accusing a judge of the High Court of corruption in open court, the Delhi High Court found her guilty of committing contempt of court and sentenced her to one month imprisonment apart from imposing a fine of Rs.2000/-. The sentence of imprisonment has been suspended for a period of three months in order to allow her to pursue appropriate legal remedies. In addition, the Delhi High Court also debarred her from arguing, whether as an advocate or party in person except in her defence, before itself or any court or tribunal subordinate to it, for a period of two years.
The sentence was imposed on Seema Sapra by a Division Bench comprising of Justice Valmiki J Mehta and Justice PS Teji in contempt proceedings originally initiated against her by a Bench comprising Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice Vibhu Bhakru after she had accused Justice Vibhu Bhakru of corruption in open court.
Seema Sapra had alleged that the constitution of the bench comprising of Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Vibhu Bhakru had been done in an improper and ‘deceptive’ manner and that Justice Vibhu Bhakru had sat with Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar in an unscheduled manner.
The bench being of the opinion that the speech made by Seema Sapra amounted to criminal contempt issued notice of contempt to her whereupon she exercised the option of having the matter heard by another bench.
The bench of Justice Ravindra Bhat and Justice Vibhu Bhakru thereafter laid the charge of contempt against her and directed the matter to be heard by another bench.
Accordingly the matter was placed before the Division Bench comprising of Justice Valmiki J Mehta and Justice PS Teji which heard the contempt case against Seema Sapra.
In her defence, Seema Sapra urged several contentions: Rejecting her first argument that the then Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan in the year 2014 had made a statement to the Press that persons can make complaints against corruption of judges, and therefore when she said that Justice Vibhu Bakhru was corrupt and indulged in deceitful practice of sitting in a Bench with Hon’ble Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar in an unscheduled manner, this stand/statement should not be taken as a contemptuous act as the statement of the noticee is for pointing out corruption, as “fallacious,” the bench said that a person can make a genuine grievance if a Judge is found to be corrupt, and for this purpose there was no need to take support from the statement made by the then Chief Justice of India.
The Court however stated that there can be no justification for baseless and reckless allegations made of corruption against the Judges as corruption is a very serious charge against the Judge and the institution of Court itself which scandalizes judiciary and interferes or tends to substantially interfere with the due course of justice if the allegation of corruption is unsubstantiated, and in fact not even remotely established.
Stating that advocates have higher duties than ordinary litigants with respect to court procedures and contemptuous statements, the Delhi High Court came to the finding that Seema Sapra “has failed to substantiate in any manner whatsoever the charge of corruption of Hon’ble Mr. Justice Vibhu Bakhru and therefore, clearly the noticee is guilty of contempt of Court.”
The Court then considered her second argument which was to the effect that “this Court cannot hear the contempt notice, inasmuch as Hon’ble Mr. Justice Vibhu Bakhru is a Judge of this Court, and therefore, this Court will become a Judge in its own cause.”
Rejecting this argument as “wholly misconceived” and “too frivolous”, the Court said that when contempt is in the face of the Court, the same Judge in whose face the contempt is committed can himself/herself forthwith take notice and issue orders of contempt against the person who is guilty of the contemptuous act (vide Leila David (6) Vs. State of Maharashtra, 2009 (10) SCC 337). The bench added that the Legislature also has made this clear in the provision of Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 under which there is no bar from other Benches of the same court from hearing a contempt notice.
Seema Sapra then contended that the Bench of Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Vibhu Bakhru on 6.5.2014 without assembling adjourned W.P.(C) No.1280/2012 to a long date, to which the bench retorted that “even for the sake of argument if we take what is argued on behalf of the noticee in the third argument as correct, the same is not a justification in any manner for calling Hon’ble Mr. Justice Vibhu Bakhru as corrupt.” The bench said that it had called for the original file of W.P.(C) No.1280/2012 and “it is seen on 6.5.2014 that the Bench of Hon’be Dr. Justice S. Muralidhar and Hon’ble Mr. Justice Vibhu Bakhru recused from the matter and listed the matter just two days later viz on 8.5.2014, and clearly therefore, the noticee is falsely arguing that a long date was given.”
Seema Sapra then urged that she was being harassed by the police who were trying to poison her. Rejecting this contention also, the bench observed : “This Court has really failed to understand as to how police harassing the noticee and making of the allegations by her that she is sought to be poisoned by the police, can in any manner justify noticee from calling a Judge of this Court as corrupt. It is not a justification for a noticee to state that she is calling a Judge of this Court corrupt without any basis whatsoever, and that too simply because the police is allegedly harassing her.” The bench added that “even the charge that the police was harassing the noticee is a wild and unsubstantiated charge against the police.”
The Court therefore held that Advocate Seema Sapra was guilty of contempt of Court and found that her contemptuous statement is of such a nature that it substantially interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of justice.
The bench noted that “the contemnor is not in any manner contrite” and that she “has been seeking to overawe different Benches of this Court and has caused recusal of different Benches hearing the main writ petition W.P.(C) No.1280/2012.”
The bench finding her guilty of contempt of court, then proceeded to sentence her to one month of imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2000/- apart from debarring her from arguing, whether as an advocate or party in person except in her defence, before the Delhi High Court or any court or tribunal subordinate to for a period of 2 years.
Read the Judgment here.