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Case Comment on Leila David v. State of Maharashtra (2009) 10 SCC 337

In this case[2], two learned Judges, Hon'ble Dr. Justice Arijit Pasayat and the Hon'ble Mr. Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly differed on whether contempt in the face of the Court can be dealt immediately, without any need of issuing notice to the contemnors, and punishment can be imposed upon them there and then only.

After referring the case[3] to the three-Judge Bench, the Court finally established the law, making it clear that Pasayat, J.�s view was the correct view in law and held that:
where an event of the instant nature takes place within the sight and presence of the learned Judges, the contempt would be of the same as in the face of the institution of the Court and is required to be dealt with at the time of the event itself.

A writ petition was filed by Ms. Annette Kotian clubbed together with the Writ Petition filed by Leila David on 29th August 2008, the petitioner among other reliefs, had also asked for direction to initiate criminal proceedings and strongly urged the arrest of 12 Judges of the High Court of Bombay.

When the matter was first heard in March in the Court of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice A.K. Ganguly, one of the petitioners threw a slipper at the bench, it appeared prima facie to be per se contempt of the Court. Though the petitioners then were asked to withdraw the allegations made, they refused to do so and submitted that they stood by the said averments and strongly urged the Court to issue process to arrest the twelve Judges of the High Court of Bombay, and mentioned their name in the prayer of their Petition.

Given the adamant stand taken by the petitioners, appearing in person, the Court had no alternative but to issue the notice as to why contempt proceedings should not be issued against them. The matters were then directed to be placed before the appropriate Bench. While the writ petitioners appeared in person, the respondents were duly represented by counsel and after hearing the petitioners, the Court was of the view that the petitioner�s argument was equally contumacious and the action required to be taken for contempt of this Court.

Therefore, the Court started proceedings for contempt.

Issues Raised:
  1. Whether contempt in the face of the Court can be dealt with summarily, without any need of issuing notice to the contemnors?
  2. Whether punishment can be inflicted upon them there and then?

Court Decision & Judgement:
A three-Judge Bench settled the law and held that, as far as the Suo Motu proceedings for contempt are concerned, we are of the view that Arijit Pasayat, J. was well within his jurisdiction in passing a summary order, having regard to the provisions of Articles 129[4] and 142[5].

Though Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971[6] lays down the procedure to be followed in cases of criminal contempt in the face of the court, it does not prevent the court from taking an alternative to instant proceedings when a deliberate and wilful contumacious incident takes place in front of their eyes and the public at large.[7]

So, the writ petitions filed by Leila David, Ms. Annette Kotian and Ms. Pavithra Murali, dismissed with a cost of Rs.1 lakh in respect of each writ petition to be into the Registry of Court.[8] And agreed with the interpretation adopted by Dr. Justice Pasayat and supported the sentence which has been imposed on the contemnors. And directed the Secretary-General to take the contemnors into custody immediately.

The instant procedure when a deliberate and wilful contumacious incident takes place in front of their eyes and the public at large is justified on the ground that quick mode of determining punishment for the contempt is essential for inspiring assurance in the public as to the institution of the justice system. The confidence of the people in the judicial administration is necessary for the maintenance of law and order in society.

As it is evident from the record, when the hearing commenced, the writ petitioners troubled the proceedings by using very offensive, and obnoxious language at a high pitch. And had gone to the extent of saying that the Judges should be jailed for having initiated proceedings against them and that the Judges should be punished for not taking care of their fundamental rights. One of the writ petitioners went to the extent of throwing footwear at the bench. It was all recorded in the presence of everyone present in the Court.

These Contemnors were not only disparaging but contumacious as well as calculated to scandalize and lower the image of the Court and the institution of Justice as a whole.
The petitioner Ms. Annette Kotian, when pin-pointed by the Court about her mannerisms suggested that she was exercising her right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a).

But, the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression are subject to the limitation on the scope of reporting of a judicial proceeding envisaged by Section 4 (of 1971 Act) which constitutes a reasonable restriction.[9] And the court held that:
�This kind of writ petition, supposedly made in maintenance of the fundamental right of freedom of speech, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution, is nothing but an attempt to disparage and malign not only the judiciary and the legal system but also other constitutional authorities of this country.�

And the learned Attorney General supported the interpretation taken by Hon�ble Justice A. Pasayat and submitted that Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 did not prevent the Court from determining the contempt matter instantly when such contempt was committed in the face of the Court.

The learned Attorney General submitted that the footwear was thrown at the Hon'ble Benches within the vision of everyone present in the Court and the very attitude of the alleged. It was urged that the alleged contemnors were negligent regarding the Courts and the judicial process and were required to be dealt with firmly to maintain the dignity and magnificence of the Courts. Therefore, the contemnors did not deserve any mercy and were required to be dealt with firmly.

The power to punish for contempt of court is a safeguard not for judges as persons but for the function which they exercise.�[10] - Justice Felix Frankfurter
It can be said that the Supreme Court is the supreme authority of law, hence regarded as sovereign. According to our constitution, the role of the Supreme Court is that of a federal court[11], guardian of the Constitution and the highest court of appeal.[12] Therefore, disrespecting such a �body of law� not only gives out the message of lawlessness and disorder but also demeans the basic objective of having a court of law.

The case of Leila David v. the State of Maharashtra highlights the facet of holding a person guilty of contempt when her/his actions prove to be scandalous thus undermining the Apex Court.

While dismissing the writ petition and keeping in view the severity of this case, the Judges held that Justice Pasayat�s decision to take Suo-Motu cognizance and hold a summary trial was completely justified and well within his jurisdiction.

However, in my humble opinion, Section 14, The contempt of court, 1971 being a statutory rule must not be overlooked. Adherence to this procedure lays a foundation of trust in the judiciary system. Else, the power of Suo-Motu cognizance will be misused anytime. This is the reason why there is a need for this judgement to be open to interpretation and reconsideration.

Case Details:
Title of the Case: Leila David vs State of Maharashtra & Others on 21 October 2009.
Citation: AIR 2009 SC 337 - Court: Supreme Court of India
Parties Involved: Appellant: Leila David - Respondent: State of Maharashtra & Others.
Bench: Hon�ble Justice Altamas Kabir, Hon�ble Justice G.S. Singhvi, Hon�ble Justice H.L. Dattu.

Case Cited For References:
  • Dhanraj Mills Ltd. Liability Co. v. Narsingh Prasad Boobna, AIR 1949 Pat 270
  • Baroda Oil Cakes Traders v. Parshotam Narayandass Bagulia, AIR 1954
  • Vinay Chandra Mishra, In re [(1995) 2 SCC 584]
  • Nand Lal Balwani, In re [(1999) 2 SCC 743: 1999 SCC (Cri) 315]
  • Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India [(1988) 3 SCC 255: 1988 SCC (Cri) 662]
  1. Fourth Semester, Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida
  2. Leila David v. State of Maharashtra (2009) 10 SCC 337
  3. (2009) 10 SCC 337.
  4. Article 129 in The Constitution of India 1949.
  5. Article 142 in The Constitution of India 1949.
  6. Section 14 The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
  7. Leila David (6) v. State of Maharashtra, (2009) 10 SCC 337: (2010) 1 SCC (Cri) 311 at page 345
  8. Leila David (6) v. State of Maharashtra, (2009) 10 SCC 337: (2010) 1 SCC (Cri) 311 at page 344
  9. See observations in Leo Roy Frey v. R.Prasad, AIR 1958 Punj 377; E.T. Sen v. E. Narayanan, AIR 1969 Del 201 (FB): 1969 Cri LJ 884 (Del) (FB)
  10. Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 US 331, 336 (1946).
  11. The Government of India Act, 1935.

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