The Supreme Court has sentenced three contemnors to three months imprisonment for raising "scandalous and scurrilous allegations" against sitting SC judges.
On April 27, the Court had held them - Vijay Kurle(State President, Maharashtra & Goa, Indian Bar Association), Rashid Khan Pathan (National Secretary, Human Rights Security Council) & Nilesh Ojha (National President, Indian Bar Association) - guilty of criminal contempt under the Contempt of Courts Act.
The bench comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose took the up the matter on May 4 for hearing on sentence.
Meanwhile, one of the contemnors, Nilesh Ojha, filed an application seeking recusal of Justice Deepak Gupta stating that he was in a "hurry" to decide the matter. This application was dismissed.
The contemnors also filed application for recall of the judgment holding them guilty for contempt.
The bench noted that in the recall applications, the correctness of the judgment was questioned on many grounds.
"No recall application can lie on these grounds and the proper remedy for the contemnors is to file a review petition, if so advised", observed the bench.
As regards sentence, none of them were ready to argue on sentence on the ground that the judgment was per incuriam and they had a right to challenge the same.
"There is not an iota of remorse or any semblance of apology on behalf of the contemnors. Since they have not argued on sentence, we have to decide the sentence without assistance of the contemnors. In view of the scurrilous and scandalous allegations levelled against the judges of this Court and no remorse being shown by any of the contemnors we are of the considered view that they cannot be let off leniently", the bench observed.
The Court also noted that it had held in the judgment that "the complaints were sent by the contemnors with a view to intimidate the Judges who were yet to hear Shri Nedumpara (Advocate Mathews Nedumpara) on the question of punishment, so that no action against Shri Nedumpara is taken".
"Therefore, it is obvious that this is a concerted effort to virtually hold the Judiciary to ransom", added the bench.
Hence, they were sentenced to three months simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs 2000 each.
The Court clarified that the sentence would come into effect after COVID-19 lockdown
"Keeping in view the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown conditions we direct that this sentence shall come into force after 16 weeks from today when the contemnors should surrender before the Secretary General of this Court to undergo the imprisonment.Otherwise, warrants for their arrest shall be issued," the order said.
Bench declines plea for adjournment
The bench declined the plea for adjournment made by the contemnors. Since Justice Deepak Gupta is set to retire on May 6, the bench was particular about hearing the matter on May 4 itself.
The Court noted in the order that the registry had received a WhatsApp message from Mr. Ishwari Lal S. Aggarwal, Advocate for Rashid Khan Pathan, that around 100 advocates would appear for him, and he wanted to know the limit for Video Conferencing. Later, he sent a list of 11 advocates appearing for Rashid Khan Pathan.
Proper Video Conferencing communication was established with Mr. Ishwari Lal S. Aggarwal but he refused to argue the matter on merits and stated that the matter would be argued by Mr. Ghanshyam Upadhyay. Proper Video Conferencing communication could not established with Mr. Ghanshyam Upadhyay though he was visible, he was not audible. Therefore, communication was established with him through WhatsApp and he stated that there was no urgency in the matter and it should be listed after the lockdown.
In this backdrop, the bench noted :
"It is obvious that Contemnor No.2 in one way or the other is trying to delay the matter".
The contemnors were held liable for 'scurrilous and scandalous' allegations against Justices R F Nariman and Vineet Saran over their order sentencing Advocate Mathews Nedumpara guilty of contempt in March 2019.
After discussing the contents of the complaints filed by the contemnors in detail, the bench found them to be "ex facie contemptuous".
Proxy battle for Nedumpara
In the judgment delivered on April 27, the SC observed that the contemnors were fighting a "proxy battle" for Advocate Mathews Nedumpara.
"Though the alleged contemnors claim that they are not expressing any solidarity with Shri Mathews Nedumpara nor do they have anything personal against Justice R.F. Nariman, the entire reading of the complaints shows a totally different picture. When we read both the complaints together it is obvious that the alleged contemnors are fighting a proxy battle for Shri Nedumpara. They are raking up certain issues which could have been raised only by Shri Nedumpara and not by the alleged contemnors Nedumpara", the bench observed.
Vijay Kurle and Rashid Khan Pathan did not deny that they have sent these letters. The Court noted that they, in fact, justified the sending of these letters.
"There is not even a word of regret in any of the affidavits filed by them", the Court exclaimed.
As regards the third contemnor Nilesh Ojha, the Court said that the letters sent by Vijay Kurle and Rashid Khan Pathan were sent with his knowledge and consent.
"Shri Rashid Khan Pathan is basically waging a war against the Members of the Bench and against this Court at the instance of Shri Nilesh Ojha, if not Shri Nedumpara because in his complaint he states that Shri Nilesh Ojha was the lawyer for the respondent before the Court and could be the only person who could have supplied the material to Shri Rashid Khan Pathan", the Court observed.
"There can be no manner of doubt that this complaint by Shri Vijay Kurle was filed with a view to intimidate the Judges so that no action against Shri Nedumpara is taken", the bench said.
The Court also noted that Ojha had appeared for Nedumpara in many contempt cases.
In March 2019, the Supreme Court had issued notices to Vijay Kurle, Rashid Khan Pathan, Nilesh Ojha and Mathews Nedumpara after taking suo moto notice of their letters against judges.
However, the Court discharged Nedumpara in a separate proceedings in September 2019, after he claimed that that he barely knew Vijay Kurle and Nilesh Ojha, and did not know Rashid Khan Pathan at all.
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