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Only Wilful And Deliberate Disobedience To Court's Order Amounts To Contempt: Supreme Court

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
21 Jan 2021 1:25 PM GMT
Only Wilful And Deliberate Disobedience To Courts Order Amounts To Contempt: Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court has observed that before before punishing a person for non-compliance of the decision of the Court, the Court must not only be satisfied about the disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, writ or other process but should also be satisfied that such disobedience was wilful and intentional.The bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and BR Gavai observed thus...

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The Supreme Court has observed that before before punishing a person for non-compliance of the decision of the Court, the Court must not only be satisfied about the disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, writ or other process but should also be satisfied that such disobedience was wilful and intentional.

The bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and BR Gavai observed thus while closing a contempt petition filed in 2008 arises out of a family dispute between a father on one hand and his two sons from his first wife on the other hand.  In the contempt petition, it was alleged that the party in his attempt to overreach an order passed by the Apex Court in an earlier contempt petition, approached the Company Law Board and obtained an interim order. The contempt petitioner alleged that invoking the jurisdiction of the CLB and entertaining the said proceedings by the CLB, itself amounts to contempt. 

The bench observed that a person does not commit contempt of court if during the pendency of certain proceedings, he takes recourse to other judicial proceedings open to him, even though the latter proceedings put the other party at a loss. It said:

"It could thus be seen, that this Court has held, that such action of a person which he takes in pursuance of his right to take legal action in a court of law, will not amount to interfering with the course of justice, even though that may require some action on the part of the other party in connection with his own judicial proceedings. The principle is, that a party is free to take action to enforce his legal right. This Court has approved the view taken by Allahabad High Court in Hrishikesh Sanyal v. A.P. Bagchi and Radhey Lal v. Niranjan Nath , that a person does not commit contempt of court if during the pendency of certain proceedings, he takes recourse to other judicial proceedings open to him, even though the latter proceedings put the other party at a loss."

The bench, then, explained the scope of contempt proceedings and observed that only wilful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of the Court would amount to contempt. The Court said:

"It can thus be seen, that this Court has held, that the contempt proceeding is not like an execution proceeding under the Code of Civil Procedure. It has been held, that though the parties in whose favour, an order has been passed, is entitled to the benefits of such 64 order, but the Court while considering the issue as to whether the alleged contemnor should be punished for not having complied with and carried out the directions of the Court, has to take into consideration all facts and circumstances of a particular case. It has been held, that is why the framers of the Act while defining civil contempt, have said that it must be wilful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of the Court. It has been held, that before punishing the contemnor for non-compliance of the decision of the Court, the Court must not only be satisfied about the disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, writ or other process but should also be satisfied that such disobedience was wilful and intentional. Though, the civil court while executing a decree against the judgment-debtor is not concerned and bothered as to whether the disobedience to any judgment or decree was wilful and once the decree had been passed, it was the duty of the court to execute the decree, whatever may be the consequences thereof. In a contempt proceeding before a contemnor is held guilty and punished, the Court has to record a finding, that such disobedience was wilful and intentional. It has been held, that if from the circumstances of a particular case, though the Court is satisfied that there has been a disobedience but such disobedience is the result of some compelling circumstances, under which it is not possible for the contemnor to comply with the same, the Court may not punish the alleged contemnor."

The court added that the contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature and the standard of proof required is in the same manner as in the other criminal cases. It said:

"The alleged contemnor is entitled to the protection of all safeguards/rights which are provided in the criminal jurisprudence, including the benefit of doubt. There must be a clear-cut case of obstruction of administration of justice by a party intentionally, to bring the matter within the ambit of the said provision. The Court has also referred to the observations made by this Court in the case of Debabrata Bandopadbyay and Others v. State of West Bengal and Another, wherein it was observed, that punishment under the law of contempt is called for when the lapse is deliberate and in disregard of one's duty and in defiance of authority.

The bench then proceeded to close the contempt petition observing that a case of wilful, deliberate and intentional disobedience of any of the directions given by the Court or acting in breach of an undertaking given to the Court is not made out.

Case: RAMA NARANG vs. RAMESH NARANG [CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 92 OF 2008] 
Coram: Justices AM Khanwilkar and BR Gavai
Counsel: Sr. Adv Jaideep Gupta, Sr.Adv Kapil Sibal, Sr. Adv Akhil Sibal, Sr.Adv Mukul Rohatgi
Citation: LL 2021 SC 28

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