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Contempt By Lawyers And Its Consequence

The contempt jurisdiction is very wide. The Court has power to punish every person, body or authority found guilty of the contempt of Court. Contempt by Lawyers, on account of the nature of duties to be discharged by the lawyers and judges they may get into heated dialogue which may result in contempt of Court.

There are several instances of the misconduct which have been taken as contempt of Court, e.g., using insulting language against a Judge,(1) making scandalous allegations against a Judge,(2) suppressing the facts to obtain favourable order hurling shoe at the Judge,(3) imputation 0f partiality (4) and unfairness against the Judge,(5) etc. A counsel who advises his client to disobey the order of the Court is also held liable for contempt of Court. Attacking the Judiciary in a Bar Council Election Manifests is taken as contempt of Court. If a counsel refuses to answer the questions of the court is also liable for contempt of Courts.

In a case(7) the Supreme Court has held that advocate using intemperate language and casting unwarranted aspersions on various judicial officers and attributing motives to them while discharging their judicial functions would be held guilty of gross contempt of Court. In this case such advocate was sentenced to four months simple imprisonment and fine of one thousand rupees. The Court has observed that it is most unbefitting for an advocate to make imputations against the Judge only because he does not get the expected result, which according to him is the fair and reasonable result available to him.(8) Judges cannot be intimated to seek favourable orders. Only because a lawyer appears as a party in person, he does not get a licence to commit contempt of the Court by intimidating the Judges or scandalising the Courts.

An advocate cannot use language, either in the pleading or during arguments which is either intemperate or unparliamentary and which has the tendency to interfere in the administration of justice and undermine the dignity of the Court and the majority of law. (9) To resent the question asked by a Judge, to be disrespectful to him, to question his authority to ask the questions, to shout at him, to threaten him with transfer and impeachment, to use insulting language and abuse him to dictate the order that he should pass, to create scenes in the Court and to address him by losing temper are all acts calculated to interfere with and obstruct, the course of justice.(10) Such acts tend to overawe the Court and to prevent it from performing its duty to administer justice.(11)

Where an advocate shouted slogans in the open court and hurled his shoe towards the court and thereby interrupted the court proceedings, his action both by his words and deeds in the presence of the court taken as gross criminal contempt of Court and he was punished for contempt of court. His apology was not accepted as it was not genuine and bonafide and made only to, escape punishment.(12)

An important issue is whether boycott of Court or strike by lawyers amounts to contempt of Court. In a case (13) the Court has held that the Bar Council has no power to call a strike of lawyers and such a call will amount to contempt of Court. In a case (14) the Court has observed that in boycotting a Court, the advocate violates his duties not only towards the client but also towards the Court. (15)

It has been held that it is not proper for a pleader to boycott the Court in pursuance of the resolution of the Bar Association and refrain from appearing in the Court without first obtaining the consent of his client. (16) However, the pleader is not guilty of any misconduct if he remains absent from the Court on the day of a strike in the town and it is not shown that he is engaged in any case fixed on that day.(17)

In Common Cause v. Union of India, (18) a Committee was constituted to suggest steps to be taken to prevent boycott or strike. The Committee suggested that instead of the Court going into the wider question, interim arrangements he made to see whether it would be workable.

On the basis of the suggestions given by this Committee, the Court has issued the following interim directions:
  1. In the rare instance where any association of lawyers including statutory Bar Councils considers it imperative to call upon/or advise members of the legal profession to abstain from appearing in courts on any occasion, it must be left open to any individual member/members of that association to be free to appear without let, fear or hindrance or any other coercive steps.
  2. No such member who appears in court or otherwise practices his legal profession shall be visited with any adverse or penal consequences whatever, by any association of lawyers and shall not suffer any expulsion or threat of expulsion therefrom.
  3. The above will not preclude other forms of protest by practicing lawyers in courts such as, for instance, wearing of arm bands and other forms of protest which in no way interrupt or disrupt the court proceedings or adversely affect the interest of the litigant. Any such form of protest shall not, however, be derogatory to the Court or to the profession.
  4. Office-bearers of a Bar Association (including Bar Council) responsible for taking decisions mentioned in clause (1) above shall ensure that such decisions are implemented in the spirit of What is stated in clauses (1), (2) and (3) above.

In Ex-capt. Harish Uppal v. Union of India, (19) the Supreme Court has made it clear that lawyers have no right to go on strike or give a call for boycott, not even on a token strike. No lawyer can be visited with any adverse consequences by the Association or the Bar Council and no threat or coercion of any nature including that of expulsion can be held out. The Court held further that only in the rarest of rare cases where the dignity, integrity and independence of the Bar and/or the Bench are at stake, the Courts may ignore to a protest abstention from work for not more than one day.

It is being clarified that it will be for the Court to decide whether or not the issue involves dignity or integrity or independence of the Bar and/or the Bench. Therefore, in such cases the President of the Bar must first consult the Chief Justice or the District Judge before advocates decide to absent themselves from Court.

The decision of the Chief Justice or the District Judge would be final and have to be abided by the Bar. The Courts are under no obligation to adjourn the matters because the lawyers are on strike. On the contrary it is the duty of all courts to go on with matters on their boards even in the absence of lawyers. Thus, Courts must not be privy to strikes or calls for boycotts. If a lawyer holding vakalat of a client abstains from attending Court due to strike call, he shall be personally liable to pay costs which shall be addition to damages which he might have to pay to his client for loss suffered by him.

It is the duty of every advocate who has accepted a brief to attend trial, even though it may go on day-to-day and for a prolonged period. A lawyer who has accepted a brief cannot refuse to attend Court because a boycott call is given by the Bar Association. It is unprofessional and unbecoming for a lawyer who has accepted brief to refuse to attend Court even in pursuance of a call for strike or boycott by the Bar Association or the Bar Council.

The Courts are under obligation to hear and decide cases brought before it and cannot adjourn matters merely because lawyers are on strike. It is a settled law that if a resolution is passed by the Bar Associations expressing want of confidence in judicial officers it would amount to scandalising the courts to undermine its authority and thereby the Advocates will have committed Contempt of Court.

The Court has held that the Bar Associations may be separate bodies but all Advocates who are members of such Association are under disciplinary jurisdiction of the Bar Councils and thus Bar Councils can always control their conduct. Even in respect of disciplinary jurisdiction the final appellate authority is, by virtue of section 38, the Supreme Court.

It is the duty of the Bar Councils to ensure that there is no unprofessional and/or unbecoming conduct. This being their duty no Bar Council can even consider giving a call for strike or a call for boycott. It follows that the Bar Councils and Bar Associations can never consider or take seriously any requisition calling for a meeting to consider a call for a strike or a call for boycott. In case any Association calls for a strike or call for boycott the concerned State Bar Council and on their failure the Bar Council of India must immediately take disciplinary action against the Advocates who give a call for strike and the Committee Members permitted calling of a meeting for such purpose against the Committee Members.

The Court has further observed that if the Bar Councils do not perform their duties by taking disciplinary action on complaint from a client against an advocate for non-appearance by reason of a call for strike or boycott, on an appeal under section 38 the Supreme Court can and will.(20)

Demonstration resulting in the interference with the functioning of the Court will amount to contempt of Court. In a case (21) certain advocates who had stormed into various Court-rooms of the High Court, raised slogans against the Judges and disrupted the Court’s functioning, were held guilty of contempt of Court.

Allegations made in the application for the transfer of the case may amount to contempt of court and the counsel who has signed it may be punished for it.(22) In a case,(23) an application was made before one Bench of the High Court for transfer of the case to the another Bench. As a ground for the transfer it was stated in the application that certain observations made by the Judges of the Bench from which the transfer was sought created a bona fide belief in the applicant’s mind that they were prejudicial against him and had made up their minds and left no doubt in the applicant’s mind that he would not receive justice at the hands of the Judges. The application was signed by the applicant and two advocates as the counsel for the applicant. The Court found the counsel guilty of contempt. The allegations in the application amounted to scandalizing the Court.

If the contemptuous, allegations against the judicial officer are made in writ petition, both petitioner and his counsel can be held liable for criminal contempt of court. However, if the counsel owns responsibility and says that the petitioner has reposes trust in him and simply has signed the petition and the petitioner files affidavit asking for apology, the contemner counsel alone will be liable for the contempt if it is established that the said act constitutes Contempt of Court. No one including the advocate who is himself the officer of the Court can claim immunity from operation of contempt law if his conduct in relation to the court interferes with or is calculated to obstruct due course of justice.(24) Statements imputing prejudice or unfairness or corruption to the Judges should not be made, unless the statements of the client as tested by the legal adviser are found sustainable.(25)

Unfounded allegations of corruption by an advocate (26) or imputing unfairness to the Court of Judge in the grounds of appeal to the appellate court (27) or inducing a client to make false affidavit and use them to delude the court(28) or false pleading by the advocate (29) amounts to contempt of Court. Wrongfully withholding the funds belonging to a client (30) or acting as solicitor without being duly qualified (31) is also taken as contempt of Court.

End Notes:
  1. MB. Sanghi, Advocate v. High Court of Punjab Haryana, AIR 1991 SC 1834.
  2. Pritam Pal v. High Court of M.P, AIR 1992 SC 904.
  3. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay v. Smt. Annatte Remand Uttanwala, 1987 Cr LJ 1038.
  4. Court on its own Motion v. Milkhi Ram, 1992 Cr LJ 2130 (HP).
  5. Shamsher Singh Bedi v. High Court of Punjab and Haryana, AIR 1995 SC 1974
  6. In re Vinay Chandra Mishra, AIR 1995 SC 2348.
  7. In re Ajay Kumat Pandey, Advocate, AIR 1998 SC 3299.
  8. In re Ajay Kumar Pandey, Advocate, AIR 1998 SC 3299.
  9. In re Ajay Kumar Pandey, Advocate, AIR 1998 SC 3299.
  10. In re Vinay Chandra Mishra, AIR 1995 SC 2348.
  11. Ibid
  12. In re Nandlal Balwani, AIR 1999 SC. 1300.
  13. Arunava Ghosh v. Bar Council of West Bengal and others.
  14. Tarini Mohan v. Pleaders, AIR 1923 Cal 212.
  15. Ibid
  16. In the matter of a Pleader, AIR 1924 Rangoon 320
  17. Emperor v. Surendra Mohan Maitra and others, 35 CWN 344
  18. 1995(1) Scale 61 : 1995 AIR SCW 1505
  19. 2003 AIR SCW 43
  20. Ex. Capt. Harish Uppal v. Union Of India, 2003 AIR SCW 43
  21. Court on its own Motion v. B.D. Kaushik & others, 1993 Or LJ 336
  22. M.V. Shareef v. Judges of Nagpur High Court, AIR 1955 SC 19
  23. Ibid
  24. Court on its Own Motion v. K.K. Jha, AIR 2007 Jh. 67.
  25. Govind Ram v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1972 SC 989
  26. In re a second Grade Pleader, 110 IC 815
  27. In re D.C. Saxena and Dr. D.C. Saxena v. The Hon’ble Chief Justice 0f India, AIR 1996 SC 2481
  28. Linwood v. Andrews and Moove. (1888) 58 LT 612
  29. Richardson v. Sutton, (1728) 125 ER 952
  30. Re Grey, (1892) 2 QB 440
  31. Re Simmons, (1885) 15 QBD 348

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