"A clear and loud message is a must to be sent that we are open to every healthy criticism respecting the fundamental right of freedom of expression and at the same time, we are obligated not to permit any attempt to tarnish the image of the Institution and to despise and damage the prestige of the same and to demean the respect it enjoys by one and all."
Following the Full Court resolution declining the unqualified apology tendered by Advocate Yatin Oza over his remarks on functioning of the High Court as well as its Registry, a Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court rejected his apology stating that the same "lacks sincerity".
"We are neither satisfied with the genuineness of apology tendered before this court nor convinced of its bona fide nature of such apology and therefore, choose not to accept the same, and to discharge the respondent at this stage of proceedings," the Division Bench of Justices Sonia Gokani and NV Anjaria said.
'Remorse Expressed Is A Tool To Escape The Consequences Of His Misconduct': Gujarat HC Full Court Rejects Yatin Oza's Unconditional Apology
"While so holding we are neither losing sight of the magnanimity expected of the court initiating the proceedings of contempt being an initiator and also an adjudicator before whom contemnor tenders apology. Nor are we acting with unwarranted sensitivity. Nor are we guided by feelings of conceit or positional supremacy, unacceptable in any person trusted by the Constitution with such vital powers of contempt."
The order has come in the suo moto contempt proceedings initiated against Oza for targeting the HC Registry and questioning the very credibility of High Court Administration "on frivolous grounds and unverified facts".
The Court expressed its "dismay" at the manner in which Oza had conducted the Live Session, declaring the Court to have lost trust of all concerned, and that litigants shall not secure justice without means and connections.
"We are dismayed at the manner in which the entire meeting was conducted which also gives a glimpse of impunity with which the possibility of notice of contempt and contempt action were also referred to before the media persons, it can be prima facie noticed that this entire sequence of events is bereft of any emotional outburst and contrarily, appears prima facie to be more guided by a definite and purposive object of attacking the Institute," the Court observed.
During a live conference on Facebook last month, attended by various journalists, Oza alleged that the HC registry was following corrupt practises, and that the cases of only the rich and powerful were being listed and heard.
Taking strong exception to such "irresponsible, sensational and intemperate" remarks, the HC had taken contempt proceedings against him observing that Oza had, with frivolous grounds and unverified facts, targeted the HC Registry and had questioned the very credibility of High Court Administration.
He had challenged the contempt proceedings before the Supreme Court, which refused to interfere in the matter.
During the pendency of contempt proceedings, the Full Court of the Gujarat High Court decided to review and recall the decision taken on October 25, 1999 to designate Oza as Senior Advocate. The decision was taken under Rule 26 of the High Court of Gujarat (Designation of Senior Advocates) Rules 2018.
Assailing this decision, Oza had moved the Top Court, seeking that the Full Court notification taking away his designation be set aside and Rule 26 of the HC Rules be declared as ultra vires.
Before the Supreme Court, Oza offered to make an unconditional apology to the HC for his remarks against it. Taking note of this, the Supreme Court deferred the hearing of his petition challenging the HC decision for two weeks, expressing the hope that the High Court will consider Oza's representation in the meantime.
On August 10, 2020, Oza tendered an unconditional apology before the High Court pursuant to which, the High Court decided to provide him an opportunity of hearing.
On consideration of totality of the facts and circumstances however, the Division Bench concluded,
"Mere apology may be no answer to an act, utterance or publication of contempt which is grave in nature so as to scandalize the majesty, dignity and authority of the Court. The school of thought of "Give slap, say sorry and forget" was not endorsed to by the Supreme Court in L.D. Jaikwal (supra)."
Oza had expressed that he held the Court in highest regard and that his grievance was against the functioning of the registry. Rejecting this submission the Court said, "the registry also cannot be permitted to be used as a pretext to attack on the administration of justice".
The Bench added,
"it is the knowledge of even a commoner that dispensation of justice is not the function of registry but of the judges exclusively and when serious announcements are made of doors of justice being closed for all others except only rich and resourceful litigants, irreparable and irreversible damage is prima facie caused. It is to be reminded that the registry carries on the function as an effective part and administrative arm of the justice delivery system."
The Court went on to observe that the present case is not the solitary instance of impunity and that Oza had previously been rapped for contemptuous actions, but was let off after tendering of apology.
Recalling the 2016 contempt case against him, which was closed by the Supreme Court after he tendered an unconditional apology, the High Court said,
"The repeated acts and conduct of contempt would definitely be one of the guiding factors for the Court to hold that apology tendered is not bona fide and lacks sincerity and therefore, an unacceptable proposition. Every time scurrilous remarks against the Judges and the institution are made and when he realises that there is no escape route, the weapon of unconditional apology comes to his rescue."
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