Permission of Attorney General not required in Suo Motu criminal contempt cases

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The Supreme Court in the recent Judgment in “Vijay Kurle & Ors, being Suo Motu Contempt Petition (Criminal) No. 2 of 2019” Settle the position that in suo motu Criminal Contempt cases, the Consent of Attorney General is not required. The court observed as under:

This is nothing but a suo motu action on reading the complaints and the letter of the President of the Bombay Bar Association and the President of the Bombay Incorporated Law Society and hence this cannot be termed to be a contempt petition requiring the consent of the Attorney General.”

Further, the Court opined that even the order of the Supreme Court for initiating contempt does not use the word “suo motu”, that would not make any difference.

The Court relied on the rules of the Supreme Court which regulates the Contempt proceedings of the Supreme Court, 1975 and relevant portion of Rule 3 are reproduced as under:

“3. In case of contempt other than the contempt referred to in rule 2, the Court may take action –

(a) suo motu, or

(b) on a petition made by Attorney­ General, or Solicitor General, or

(c) on a petition made by any person, and in the case of a criminal contempt with the consent in writing of the Attorney ­General or the Solicitor­ General.”

The perusal of Rule 3 shows that there are 3 ways for initiating contempt proceedings. The first is suo motu, the second is on a petition made by the Attorney General or the Solicitor General, and the third is on the basis of a petition made by any person and where criminal contempt is involved then the consent of the Attorney General or the Solicitor General is necessary.

In this regard reference of Section 15 in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 is important to be reproduced herein:

15. Cognizance of criminal contempt in other cases.—

“(1) In the case of a criminal contempt, other than a contempt referred to in section 14, the Supreme Court or the High Court may take action on its own motion or on a motion made by—

(a) the Advocate-General, or

(b) any other person, with the consent in writing to the Advocate-General, 3 [or]

3 [(c) in relation to the High Court for the Union territory of Delhi, such Law Officer as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf, or any other person, with the consent in writing of such Law Officer.]”

The Supreme Court in Bal Thackrey vs Harish Pimpalkhute & Anr case wherein it was indicated that Supreme Court could have taken suo motu, even without the consent of the Attorney General, but that such a recourse should be confined to rare occasions only. The Supreme Court in paragraphs 20, 21 & 22 proceeded to observe thus:

20. The matter may require further consideration, but we are not inclined to hold that the contempt proceedings are not maintainable for the above mentioned reasons.

Primarily, certain information was brought to the notice of the Chief Justice of India on which action was taken. In other words, notwithstanding the prayer in the application made by the learned amicus curiae, the Chief Justice of India took cognizance and directed notice to issue thereupon.

21. The issues involved in these proceedings have far greater ramifications and impact on the administration of justice and the justice delivery system and the credibility of the Supreme Court in the eyes of the general public than what was under consideration in either Duda case or Bal Thackrey case. In our view, even though suo motu cognizance was taken in this case, this is one of those rare cases were, even if the congnizance is deemed to have been taken in terms of Rule 3(c) of the Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of the Supreme Court, 1975, without the consent of the Attorney General or the Solicitor General, the proceedings must be held to be maintainable.

22. Thus, on prima facie satisfaction that there were sufficient grounds for taking action on its own motion, the Court initiated suo motu action by directing issue of notice to the respondents. Hence, the present contempt proceedings was initiated by the Court on its own motion and it is not covered by clauses (a),(b) and (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 or clauses (b) and (c) of Rule 3 of the Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of the Supreme Court, 1975. On the other hand, the present proceeding is covered by clause (a) of Rule 3 of the said Rules.”

A three judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari on July 22 issued notice to advocate Prashant Bhushan, asking him to show cause why criminal contempt proceedings will not be initiated against him for his tweets against the sitting Chief Justice of India S. A. Bobde.

Later the court directed the Registry to place the contempt case of 2009 before it, where the subject matter of the case is an interview given by Bhushan to Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka magazine in 2009.

In that contempt, the basic objection of Mr. Bhushan is that the court could not have taken cognizance of the complaint filed by Senior Advocate Harish Salve as it was not accompanied with the sanction of the Attorney General as mandated by section 15(1)(a) and (b) of the Contempt of Courts Act,1971, read with Explanation (a) and Rule 3(a),(b) and (c) of the Contempt of Supreme Court Rules.

In a latest development today, in order to escape from the above suo motu contempt proceeding against Prashant Bhushan, he along with N. Ram and Arun Shourie filed a writ petition in Supreme Court by assailing the constitutionality of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972 which deems acts that scandalise or lower the authority of courts punishable as criminal contempt of court. 

-India Legal Bureau

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