SC Stays Contempt Proceedings Against Former Kerala Vigilance Director Jacob Thomas

SC Stays Contempt Proceedings Against Former Kerala Vigilance Director Jacob Thomas

A Supreme Court bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan on Monday issued notice to the Kerala High Court on an SLP preferred by the state’s former vigilance director Jacob Thomas against the March 20 order of the high court initiating suo motu contempt proceedings against him, thereby staying the proceedings.

Background

The Kerala High Court had initiated contempt proceedings against former vigilance director Jacob Thomas for levelling allegations of corruption against two high court judges – Justice P Ubaid and Justice Abraham Mathew, who were allegedly victimising him by passing adverse judgments in several corruption cases he has been probing, including the Pattor land scam. The development follows a complaint made by Thomas on March 9 to Central Vigilance Commissioner in which he had made several allegations against the two judges and also the Lokayukta Pius C Kuriakose of demoralizing him from probing corruption cases involving highly influential persons of the state.
Advocate Mansoor BH, who is practicing before the Kerala High Court, had also moved a contempt petition wherein he had also prayed for inquiry into the allegations made by Thomas and how his complaint was made public.

Mansoor said he saw reports in all leading newspapers on March 10 about the complaint made by Thomas based on the complaint sent by him to the CVC through the Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala.

“The conduct of the respondent (Thomas) in leaking out a copy of the Complaint filed by him before the Central Vigilance Commissioner to the members of the Fourth Estate is to be taken note of very seriously and a detailed enquiry in this regard is to be made,” he said in his contempt petition.

He also relied on Rule 7 of the All India Services (Conduct) Rules 1968, which bars members of service from criticising the government directly or indirectly; Rule 9, which prohibits unauthorised communication of information; and Rule 17, which bars officers to take recourse to court or press for the vindication of official act which has been the subject matter of adverse criticism or of a defamatory character except with prior sanction.

The Registrar General placed the petition before the Chief Justice Antony Dominic. The Chief Justice found that the petition prima facie disclosed allegations which constituted criminal contempt as defined under the Contempt of Courts Act and felt necessary to take further action in accordance with law. Accordingly, suo moto action was initiated under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act. It was observed that in filing a complaint before the CVC, which has no jurisdiction to entertain the same, and thereupon releasing the same in public domain amounts to scandalising and lowering the authority of the judiciary and obstructing the administration of justice.

Hearing before the apex court on Monday

Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing on behalf of Jacob Thomas, advanced, “With great respect to the High Court, there is no contempt...(Dr. Thomas’s letter to the CVC) has nothing to do with the High Court...it elaborates on his own grievance against the system...the High Court cannot be overtly sensitive...”

Senior counsel V Giri, appearing for the high court, replied, “The Chief Justice (of the High Court) has found a prima facie case of contempt...besides, only a show cause notice has been issued to him...what could be the problem in appearing before the division bench of the High Court to clarify what he meant or what he did not mean?...if he does not wish to appear in person, he may even apply for an exception...”

“But it violates the petitioner’s right as a citizen to appear in person...,” Dave sought to submit.

“All the petitioner has said is they were not given an opportunity of being heard when certain matters were adjudicated upon...he is only saying that our own system needs to be improved...that matters of corruption have taken even the judiciary for a ride in so far as the manner of investigation and the manner of presentation of a cases before the court are concerned...there is nothing against the judges...to initiate contempt in such circumstances is a serious matter...show us one allegation,” remarked the bench.

Thereupon, Giri proceeded to quote certain portions of the complaint-  “A series of judgments came from Mr. Justice P. Ubaid of the Honourable High Court of Kerala starting from the beginning of February, 2017, all of which were widely published in media as scathing criticism against him immediately upon each order by the learned single judge...There are several other judgments from the learned single judge during this period, all of which were in effect demoralizing and constraining the officers diligently investigating complex corruption cases involving highly influential persons in the State. This has affected the strong commitment to investigate and collect all relevant facts in a speedy manner in corruption cases which were informed to the vigilance court by way of a First Information Report. Even there was constraining comments on the functioning of the vigilance court that acted with integrity and commitment to public interest in the eradication of this great malady of corruption...”

“The petitioner has used the phraseology ‘orders passed by a judge’...one does not usually refer to judges by the name...,” submitted Giri, emphasising on the use of the terms ‘scathing’ and ‘demoralising’.

“The petitioner’s main intention is to improve the system and not to hurt any judge,” reiterated the bench, initially seeking to direct the petitioner to file a clarificatory affidavit before the high court upon which the high court may close the matter.

“By why is the petitioner being subjected to these proceedings? I can show a 1953 constitution bench judgment of the Supreme Court where it has been held that in such cases, no contempt may be initiated (Brahma Prakash Sharma v. State of UP)...in most courts, the appointment of the Public Prosecutor is purely a political matter which leads to difficulty in investigation...,” intervened Dave.

“The petitioner was an official of the rank of the DGP who is merely saying all cases of corruption meet the same fate...,” noted the bench.

When Giri read from the complaint to the CVC in so far as Thomas has claimed being “discredited” and “humiliated” when the FIR in the Pattoor case was quashed by Justice Abraham Mathew on account of the “deficient representation by the prosecutors and investigators”, the bench observed, “he is only trying to say that the prosecution is perhaps hand in glove with the criminals...”

Remarking that the high court cannot be “so touchy”, the bench on Monday issued notice to the high court.