Bench Hunting: SC Restores Contempt Proceedings Against Lawyer, Litigant In Allahabad HC [Read Order]
The Supreme Court has directed the Allahabad High Court to continue with the contempt proceedings against a litigant and lawyer for allegedly resorting to 'bench hunting'.
While Justice A.M. Thipsay, (then judge of Allahabad High Court transferred from Bombay High Court) was presiding a Court in Lucknow bench, a submission was made by a lawyer (Ranjana Agnihotri) that, in the case, a member of the local Bar was appearing and now a legal practitioner from Mumbai is appearing, and therefore there is suspicion in the mind of her client (Rajesh Kr. Dubey). The judge though reprimanded the lawyer for making such a submission, adjourned the case, with a mere direction to Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh to look into improper conduct of the lawyer. The judge observed thus in the order:
There is every reason to believe that such type of submission viz:- 'of the Counsel being from Mumbai'- has been made only to avoid the hearing taking place. Only on the basis of the counsel for the applicant being from Mumbai, and I also coming from the Bombay High Court, it was not proper to suggest, that the matter should not be taken up by this Bench. Advocates owe a duty not only to their client but also to the Court. It was the duty of the learned counsel to consider whether such submission was justified, and whether there was any basis for the supposed apprehension of her client.
Later, the other party (Dheeraj Kumar Dubey) in the case moved a contempt application against the litigant. The Single Judge of the High Court did not find any ground to initiate contempt proceedings and dismissed the contempt application in limine. Against this order of dismissal, Dheeraj Kumar Dubey approached the Apex Court. Both the lawyer and the litigant filed affidavits before the Apex Court explaining their versions.
The Apex Court bench comprising of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna observed that the contempt application should be taken to the logical conclusion. The bench also took note of observation in an order of the High Court in another case against the said lawyer. In its order, the bench said:
"Before we part, we must also note that both respondents 2 & 3 have tendered unconditional apology but the stand taken by them does not entitle them at this juncture to any benefit of acceptance of such unconditional apology. We, therefore, allow this appeal, set aside the order passed by the High Court and restore the contempt application to the file of the High Court to be considered afresh on merits. The name of Ms. Ranjana Agnihotri shall stand added as respondent No.3 in said Contempt Application as alleged contemnor."