The Bombay High Court has initiated contempt action against three Advocates who were accused of submitting false and fabricated news clipping against a High Court Judge.

In a batch of pleas, the Court said that it is attack on the authority of the institution and the majesty of law.

A Division Bench comprising Justice Anuja Prabhudessai and Justice N.R. Borkar observed, “In our considered view, Mr. Zoheb Merchant, Ms Minal Chandnani and Mr. Bhimesh Pahuja have indulged in making scandalous attack on the Judge to browbeat him to recuse from the matter. It is not an attack on the dignity, reputation and an honour of an individual Judge but an attack on the authority of the institution and majesty of the law. Such deliberate, motivated and contemptuous act, which impair the administration of justice or tend to bring the administration of justice into disrepute or lowers the dignity of the court fall within the definition of criminal contempt under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.”

The Bench refused to accept the apologies of the Advocates and said that it is inclined to safeguard the majesty and dignity of the institution, rather than protecting the personal interest of those involved in tarnishing its image.

Senior Advocate Ravi Kadam represented the petitioner while Advocate H.S. Venegavkar represented the respondents.

Facts of the Case -

The entire controversy erupted over the news clipping filed by an Advocate who was representing a person in a writ petition. As per the said news clipping, there was a strong rumour that the High Court was likely to grant bail to the accused in the matter and that a complaint in that regard was lodged before the Chief Justice of India (CJI). It was further stated in it that the said accused who has defalcated over 430 crores has approached the High Court directly in view of his friendship with Justice xxx and knowing that he will help him in his release.

It was also insinuated that said Judge was anxious to expedite the hearing of the case and it was alleged that he had misused his position and that the request is made to the CJI to withdraw the matter from Justice xxx and to place it before any other Bench.

The High Court, in view of the facts and circumstances of the case noted, “… though the matter was extensively argued before the Bench headed by Justice xxx, due to the change of roster the matter could not be listed before the same Bench. Hence, the Bench was reconstituted and on 08/11/2023, the matter was listed before the earlier Bench. On the same date, the praecipe dated 06/11/2023, filed by Mr. Zoheb Merchant was placed before the Court. Such perfect timing in forwarding a fabricated newspaper clipping and filing of praecipe seeking recusal from the matter cannot be a mere coincidence but prima facie appears to be a calculated and motivated attempt of Bench hunting by brow-beating the Judge to recuse from the proceedings. Such conduct strikes at the very fundamentals of administration of justice.”

Furthermore, the Court said that a fervent plea has been made to accept the apology tendered by the Advocates who are the members of the Bar and that it need not be emphasized that an Advocate is an integral part of the judicial administration. It added that as an officer of the Court, the Advocate is responsible to uphold the dignity of the Court, majesty of law, and prevent any interference in the administration of justice.

“In the instant case, the three members of the Bar have made scurrilous and scandalous imputations against a Judge with a calculated motive of seeking recusal from the matter. The conduct is thoroughly contemptuous. … It needs to be noted that this Court had not accepted the apology of Mr. Zoheb Merchant and had adjourned the matter to test his bonafides. Despite which he failed to remain present before the Court on the adjourned date and rather chose to travel abroad. Similarly, Respondent No.5 did not appear before the Court despite due service of notice on the issue of contempt. He appeared and tendered an apology only after the issuance of warrant, albeit several ailments”, it also said.

The Court noted that such conduct prima facie suggests that the apology is not genuine and is only a ploy to escape the consequences of contempt action.

Accordingly, the High Court directed the Registry to issue Contempt Notice to the Advocates under Rule 9(i), Chapter XXXIV of the Bombay Appellate Side Rules, 1960.

Cause Title- Amar Sadhuram Mulchandani v. Directorate of Enforcement, Mumbai and Ors.


Petitioner: Advocates Karan Kadam, Shantanu Phanse, S.S. Bedekar, and Ilsa Shaikh.

Respondents: APP M.M. Deshmukh

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