To hold Advocate Mathews Nedumpara guilty of contempt, the Supreme Court followed the dictum that when contempt is in the face of court, summary procedure can be followed to inflict punishment "then and there".
"When contempt is committed in the face of the Court, judges' hands are not tied behind their backs. The majesty of this Court as well as the administration of justice both demand that contemptuous behavior of this kind be dealt with sternly", observed the judgment by the bench of Justice R F Nariman and Vineet Saran.
The bench made reference to the precedents Leila David (6) v. State of Maharashtra, (2009) 10 SCC 337 and Ram Niranjan Roy v. State of Bihar & Ors., (2014) 12 SCC 11 and R.K. Anand v. Delhi High Court, (2009) 8 SCC 106, which held that if the contempt is gross and in the face, immediate action can be taken by judges to inflict punishment "then and there", without affording opportunity of defence.
"Conduct of this kind deserves punishment which is severe. Though we could have punished Shri Nedumpara by this order itself, in the interest of justice, we issue notice to Shri Nedumpara as to the punishment to be imposed upon him for committing contempt in the face of the Court", observed the Court.
The Court's action was triggered by Nedumpara's reference to Senior Advocate Fali S Nariman while alleging that only relatives of judges were being designated as senior advocates. Despite the cautioning by the court, he repeated the reference. When questioned about it, he denied having done so. When the others present in the Court confirmed his action, he attempted to justify his references.
"We are of the view that the only reason for taking the learned Senior Advocate's name, without there being any relevance to his name in the present case, is to browbeat the Court and embarrass one of us", said the court.
The judgment also noted he having said in the Court "Your Lordships have enormous powers of contempt, and Tihar Jail is not so far."
As regards the petition filed by National Lawyers Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms, which sought for abolition of the system of senior designation, the bench noted it was in essence a second review of the judgment in Indira Jaising case, where the SC had laid down guidelines for the senior designation to bring in more transparency in the process. Therefore, the petition was dismissed.
The Court directed the circulation of the judgment to the Bar Council of India and Bar Council of Kerala.
Not the first time; Past incidents noted.
"This is not the first time that this particular advocate has attempted to browbeat and insult Judges of this Court", observed the bench of Justice R F Nariman and Vineet Saran while holding advocate Mathews Nedumpara guilty of committing contempt in the face of the court.
The Court's finding was not based on his solitary action of taking the name of Senior Advocate Fali S Nariman. Rather, the Court took into account several past orders passed by the Supreme Court and the Bombay High Court deprecating the rough conduct of Nedumpara in Court.
"In point of fact, the style of this particular advocate is to go on arguing, quoting Latin maxims, and when he finds that the Court is not with him, starts becoming abusive", said the Court. It added that he is mostly briefed in hopeless cases, vast majority of them being cases of debtors who have persistently defaulted, and he attempts to "browbeat the court" to get discretionary orders.
The bench made reference to an order passed by the Supreme Court on November 19,2018, where it was observed that Nedumpara had mentioned an SLP which had automatically stood dismissed for not complying with conditions imposed in an earlier order passed on October 22. It was made clear in the October 22 order that the SLP will be automatically dismissed without further orders if the deposit was not made. The condition was not complied with, leading to dismissal of the SLP. Suppressing this fact, the SLP was mentioned before the very same bench to get a listing date.
This was taken note of very seriously by the bench, which observed Nedumpara's conduct to be 'unbecoming of an advocate'. But the Court refrained from imposing costs considering the dire financial straits of the client and closed the matter saying that similar future conduct will be sternly dealt with.
The bench headed by Justice Nariman then proceeded to note a series of orders passed by Bombay High Court against Nedumpara. On September 18, 2012, the HC had initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against him for disrupting court proceedings.
On June 6, 2013, the Bombay HC initiated another criminal contempt proceedings on the basis of prima facie finding that calls were made from Nedumpara's firm to legal officer of a bank posing as a sitting judge of the High Court.
In an order passed in a company petition, a single judge of the Bombay High Court had dedicated a paragraph under the caption "The Conduct of Mr. Mathews Nedumpara, Advocate for the ex-Directors", detailing his "aggressive, discourteous and offensive" manner in court. Against these observations, he filed an appeal to the Division Bench, making the judge who made the observations a respondent.
Based on these incidents, the SC observed "Nedumpara is in the habit of terrorising Tribunal members and using intemperate language to achieve his ends before several Judges of the Bombay High Court"
"If lawyers can be bold enough to file writ petitions on observations judicially made by a Judge of the High Court, the very independence of the judiciary itself comes under threat", Justice Nariman noted in the judgment.