The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday sentenced an advocate to one-month imprisonment for criticizing a High Court Judge in a Facebook post.
The Facebook post pertained to three personal cases which were decided against the lawyer, Mr. Manish Vashishth. As per the order, his post had said that "the Judge deciding the cases against him had not uploaded the order for a number of days after pronouncement as he must not be knowing what was to be written in the judgment".
English translation of his Facebook post, as quoted in the judgment, reads as follows:
"August I had appeared in the Hon'ble High Court before Hon'ble Mr. Justice Inderjit Singh. On that there were three matters of mine listed before the Hon'ble Court of Justice Inderjit Singh and when I wanted to state about law, he started threatening me for writing contempt reference against me. I told that it is your will, got flared up. Without hearing me, the three matters decided against me in illegal manners.
Today there has been 7 days since 24 August but in only one matter the order has been uploaded on the website, which is not speaking, the decision better than this can be written by a Magistrate. In two matters the orders have not been uploaded till today, perhaps, has not got dictated, what should dictate, must be thinking. The decision is false, it would demand hard labour for got it written.
When Magistrate does not load order on website till 5 P.M. then this High Court would take up danda. Himself has taken 7 days and it is not sure how many days would be taken for uploading.
From the conduct of Justice Inderjit Singh of that day, I think if there had been camera in the Court, everybody would have known the reality of Hon'ble Judge.
It is not uploaded till today. My lord must not be understanding, what to get written.”
Finding him guilty of contempt for such allegations, the Bench comprising Justice M.M.S. Bedi and Justice Hari Pal Verma observed, "The dignity and authority of the Court has to be maintained not only by the general public but also by the Advocates who constitute an important part of the system of the administration of justice and are considered as officers of the Court....
...The Judge had not uploaded the judgment as the Judge might not have understood what was to be written. Such a derogatory remark is contemptuous on the face of it as such the contemnor is held guilty of having committed contempt of Court."
Hearing the case against him, the Court noted that instead of coming up with true facts, the accused lawyer disputed the origin of the post, and also challenged the jurisdiction of the Court in hearing a contempt petition against itself. It further noted that he, in fact, deleted the post soon after the contempt proceedings were initiated by the Court.
The Court, however, took note of his past conduct, noting that he has been in the habit of filing complaints against judicial officers and "browbeating them". It clarified that the various complaints registered by him were taken into consideration to ascertain the "probabilities of his having committed a particular act of publication". His conduct was in fact mentioned in a judicial order as well, wherein a District and Sessions Judge had recused himself from the case because of Mr. Vashishth's behavior.
The Court then observed, "We are satisfied that the contemnor is a habitual complaint maker. He is an Advocate as well as journalist and uses his wisdom and knowledge to malign the Judicial Officers. Contemnor is in the habit of complaining against everyone who comes in contact with him during the course of professional routine."
It thereafter concluded that the Facebook post was in fact made from his account. On the question of quantum of sentence, the Court noted that even though Mr. Vashishth had demanded to be shown leniency in view of him being a lawyer, he had not furnished any apology. It, therefore, refused to reduce the sentence of one month simple imprisonment imposed on him.
The Court, however, observed that since Mr. Vashishth has a right to file an appeal before the Apex Court, the sentence would not be implemented against him till 2 July, when the Supreme Court reopens after the summer vacations. He has been directed to surrender in the Court of the CJM, Narnaul on 31 July.