The Supreme Court on Monday held three persons guilty of contempt for 'scurrilous and scandalous' allegations against judges.
A bench comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose held 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 contempt.
They 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".
"Both the complaints are exfacie contemptuous. Highly scurrilous and scandalous allegations have been levelled against the two judges of this Court. In our view, the entire contents of the complaints amount to contempt", the bench observed.
These sort of scandalous allegations have to be dealt with "sternly and nipped in the bud", the bench asserted.
The Court will hear the contemnor on May 1 on sentence.
Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra assisted the bench as amicus curiae.
Proxy battle for Nedumpara
In the judgment released on Monday, 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 for 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.
No litigant has right to attribute motives against judges
The top court added that "lawyers who try to browbeat or threaten judges have to be dealt with firmly and there can be no ill-founded sympathy for such lawyers".
"Some members of the Bar cannot hold the judiciary to ransom by threatening Judges of initiating criminal action. If this trend is not dealt with firmly then any party against whom a case is decided will start filing criminal cases against judges", the bench said.
The apex court reminded that relationship between the Bench and the Bar should be cordial with mutual respect for each other.
The bench emphasized that no litigant has a right to attribute motives to a judge.
"No litigant has a right to attribute motives to a Judge. No litigant has a right to question the integrity of a Judge. No litigant has a right to even question the ability of a Judge. When the ability, integrity and dignity of the Judges are questioned, this is an attack on the institution. It is an attack on the majesty of law and lowers the impression of the Courts in the public eye. The allegations in the complaints are scurrilous and scandalous".
The bench added :
"No doubt, any citizen can comment or criticise the judgment of this Court. However, that citizen must have some standing or knowledge before challenging the ability, capability, knowledge, honesty, integrity, and impartiality of a Judge of the highest court of the land".
Suo moto notice taken by bench led by Justice R F Nariman
In March 2019, a bench comprising Justices R F Nariman and Vineet Saran then took suo moto cognizance of a letter sent by Bombay Bar Association and the Bombay Incorporated law Society, in which they highlighted the attempt made by the contemnors to "terrorize and intimidate" the judges.
The letter by Advocate Vijay Kurle, on behalf of one 'Indian Bar Association' (to President of India, CJI, Bombay HC CJ) sought permission to prosecute the judges (Justices R F Nariman and Vineet Saran) and withdrawal of judicial work from them for having passed a Judgment dated 12th March, 2019 convicting Mr. Mathews Nedumpara for contempt of the Supreme Court of India.
The Bombay Bar Association said that the Indian Bar Association is not a recognized Bar Association and that it has 'reasons to believe that it is a a self serving body floated by Advocates Nilesh Ojha and Vijay Kurle.
Taking note of these developments, the bench ordered on March 27, 2019:
"Given the two complaints filed, it is clear that scandalous allegations have been made against the members of this Bench. We, therefore, issue notice of contempt to (1) Shri Vijay Kurle; (2) Shri Rashid Khan Pathan; (3) Shri Nilesh Ojha and (4) Shri Mathews Nedumpara to explain as to why they should not be punished for criminal contempt of the Supreme Court of India, returnable within two weeks from today."
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