Leila David v/s State Of Maharastra
Factual MatrixThe petitioner and three others filed a writ of mandamus against twelve sitting
judges of the High Court of Bombay, requesting that criminal proceedings and
severe punishment be instigated. In March, the petition was listed and heard
before the Divisional Bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice A.K. Ganguly.
During the proceedings, one of the petitioners threw a chappal at the Judges and
began to utter abusive language, thereby condescending and disrupting with the
court's proceedings and was found in contempt of court in front of the Supreme
When the petitioners were asked to retract their claims, they refused and
continued to argue that they stand by their claims, pleading with the court to
order the arrest of the twelve Bombay High Court judges. One of the petitioners,
Ms. Annette Kotian, was repeatedly warned to control her language and her
aggressive behaviour, but she persisted in using abusive and derogatory words
and vehemently argued that she was entitled to protection under Article 21 of
the Constitution and that she would continue to do so.
Hon. Justice Pasayat heard the contempt case the same day and sentenced the
violators to three months of simple imprisonment, but Justice A.K. Ganguly
disagreed. The Chief Justice convened a three-judge bench to hear the case after
the matter was brought before him.
Substantial Question Of Law/ Issues Before The CourtT
Arguments By The Parties:
- What constitutes contempt of court?
- Whether summary jurisdiction is maintainable?
- Whether the right to free expression enshrined in Article 19 of the
Constitution is an absolute right, and whether the right to protect oneself
is also enshrined in Article 21?
- Whether the petition's procedural flaws and the language used,
vandalising the court and the offices of the President, Prime Minister, and
Attorney General, are grounds for contempt under the Contempt of Courts Act,
- The petitioner claimed that they had the right to speak out and use such
languages as they have the freedom of speech and right to free speech
enshrined under Article 19 of the constitution.
- Furthermore, they also claimed that, it would not amount to contempt, as
they have Right to Life enshrined under Article 21 and initiating summary
proceedings was violative of this fundamental right.
The Kind Of Interpretation That Was Put Forth By The Court
In the present case, the court determined that throwing a chappal at
the judges amounted to contempt of court because it dishonoured the supreme
legal authority. Section 2 of the Contempt Of Courts Act, 1971 in India contains
clause (c), which defines contempt of court.
Criminal contempt is defined as the publication of information or the
performance of any other act that denigrates, undermines, or tends to denigrate
the authority of any court, prejudices, interferes, or tends to interfere with
the proper conduct of any judicial proceedings, or interferes, tends to
interfere, obstructs, or tends to obstruct the administration of justice in any
The Indian Constitution makes specific provision for High Courts and
the Supreme Court to be recognised as Courts of Record under Article 215 and
under Article 219.The summary procedure is justified on the grounds that a
speedy method of determining the contempt sentence is required to instil trust
in the administration of justice among the general public. It is essential for
the upkeep of peace and order in society that the public has faith in the legal
The limitations on this freedom as stated in Article 19(2) include the
citizen's liability under the present law of contempt as well as any additional
fair limitations on the freedom in future legislation in the aim of avoiding
judicial contempt. The reasonable restriction envisaged by Section 4 (of the
1971 Act) on the extent of reporting on a judicial action influences the
fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression. And, they are subjected
to the restrictions imposed in Section 4 of the Act.
Judicial Interpretations That Deduced The Verdict (With Other Significant Referred Cases)
In the case of Delhi Judicial Services Association v. State of Gujarat and
Others, the Supreme Court observed that criminal contempt is wide enough to
include any act of a person which is likely to interfere with the administration
of justice which would lower the authority of court. In the case of re P.C. Sen,
the Supreme Court has again taken a view that, the question of whether the
contemnor had the intention to interfere with the administration of justice or
had the intention to cause such contempt was irrelevant in deciding a case of
In the case of Vinay Chandra Mishra, the Supreme Court has observed that
summary jurisdiction is valid in exceptional cases, especially in cases where
the contempt is against the highest authority of law of a country. The threat of
criminal contempt is the immediate action against the offence and hence
prolonged trial would mean prolonged contempt. Therefore, time factor was held
to be crucial. In the landmark Ramanarao case,5 The Law of Contempt of Court it
is not violative of Article 19(1)(a). It seeks to bring a balance between visual
freedom of speech and expression and necessity for healthy social over the
individual freedom. The very fact that the contempt jurisdiction as given to
High Court is sufficient to establish that it is a valid law.
Verdict Of The Case:
Though Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 lays down a procedure that
should be followed in cases of criminal contempt, it does not however, prevent
the courts from taking an alternative to instant proceedings when a conscious ,
deliberate and ill-will act takes place in an open court.
Hence, the writ petitions filed by Leila David, Ms. Anette Kotian and Ms.
Pavithra Murali was dismissed with a cost of Rs. 1 lakh in respect of each of
the writ petition filed. The contemnors were also sentenced for three months
simple imprisonment .
My Own Critical Comments On The Case:
In my opinion, the High Court has rightly administered summary jurisdiction.
However, in cases of a Suo moto cognizance, the parties identified as contemnors
should have been given an equal opportunity to represent themselves although the
court might be of the view that there wouldn't be a justification for the act
committed by them. Such a denial of right to represent their case, that too in a
Suo moto, amounts to the court refusing a person the right of natural justice.
It may not have been expressly incorporated in our law, yet, Indian Judiciary
has always recognised it as a natural right.
Right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) is
subject to certain limitations, which is necessary for preserving the individual
freedom and social order. Hence, when a person acts in contravention of the
limitations set out by the Article, it would infringe on the fundamental rights
guaranteed to other persons.
To conclude, I stand by the Hon' Supreme Court's verdict in holding the parties
in criminal contempt as they have public humiliated the court and have
interfered with the administration of justice. Thus, I support the verdict of
the case, yet, I disagree with the procedure adopted by the court in arriving at
- AIR (2009) 10 SCC 337
- Delhi Judicial Services Association v. State of Gujarat & Others, (1991) 4 SCC 406, at p. 456.
- AIR 1970 SC 1821
- 4 AIR 1995 SC 2348, at p. 2361
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Tejaswini S
Authentication No: JU315608129723-5-0623