The Bombay High Court recently emphasised that Advocates who sign applications or pleadings containing scandalous remarks against the Court intending to artificially create a situation leading to recusal by a judge, can be held guilty for the Contempt of Court.

The Division Bench of Justice Rajesh S. Patil and Justice Nitin W. Sambre referred to the Apex Court's Judgement in M.Y. Shareef & Another Versus The Hon’ble Judges of the High Court of Nagpur & Others [1955 SCR (1) 757] and in its order observed, "...An advocate, who signs an application or pleading containing matter scandalizing the Court so as to have an order of recusal or such similar order, he can be held guilty for the contempt of Court unless there is a reasonable satisfaction by him about existence of adequate grounds. It is the duty of the advocates to advise their clients to refrain from making allegations of such nature."

Background: The High Court was dealing with a praecipe, an application for circulating the matter, attached with a newspaper article casting aspersions on Justice Sambre stating that the said Judge would be granting bail to the petitioner in the matter. The news article further reflected that the petitioner is known to the said Judge and that to maintain the relations with the petitioner, the Judge is going to grant the relief. It was further mentioned that against the said Judge a complaint is lodged with the Chief Justice of India.

The said praecipe further stated that there were rumours which have come to the knowledge of the said lawyer regarding the Court’s integrity and there being allegations of bias and partiality levelled by certain unscrupulous elements of the society which is reflected in the aforesaid newspaper article. The lawyer also stated in the praecipe that the matter may be listed before any other Bench. Such allegations prompted the Court to pass a Contempt notice.

The Bench noted, "When the matter was heard on the last date, Advocate Minal Jaiwant Chandnani, who is having considerable standing, had attended the hearing and stated that Advocate Zoheb Merchant is working under her and she continued with the argument that what has been stated in the praecipe signed by Advocate Zoheb Merchant is correct. As the aforesaid conduct of both these lawyers is found to be scandalizing the Courts and creating an artificial situation of prevailing upon the Judges not to take up the matters which amount to contempt, this Court pointed out the judgment of the Hon’ble Apex Court in M.Y. Shareef & Another Versus The Hon’ble Judges of the High Court of Nagpur & Others [1955 SCR (1) 757]. The lawyers accordingly have tendered their unconditional apology by filing their respective affidavits."

However, the Court in its order recorded the conduct of the lawyers. The Court stated, "When it was enquired with the Registry as to who has submitted the praecipe, it was informed that both these lawyers have submitted the praecipe and that time the Registry had advised them to refrain from doing so. After some time both these lawyers came back and insisted the Registry to accept the praecipe. Apart from above, the very tenor of lawyer Ms Minal Jaiwant Chandnani while conducting the matter on the earlier date depicts that she had no respect and regard for the Court proceedings. The said lawyer has tried to substantiate what has been stated in the praecipe submitted by Advocate Zoheb Merchant who is claimed to be working under her."

Further referring to the said praecipe the Bench observed that the option as such open to the Judges comprising the Bench is either to recuse themselves from hearing the matter or to continue with the same ignoring the accusations. "The Judges of the Bench are expected to decide the disputes brought before them free from any personal bias or prejudice. The parties like the aforesaid lawyers and the litigants to whom they represent create an artificial perception that by scandalizing the Courts and the Judges they can secure a order of recusal. In such an eventuality, we are of the view that the lawyers and the litigants who exhibit such behavior are required to be dealtn with an iron hand by taking stern action", added the Court in its order.

Accordingly, the Court directed the Pimpri-Chinchwad Commissioner of Police to ensure the service of a contempt notice to the respondent, Bhisham Pahuja and additionally sought details regarding the newspaper 'Rajdharma,' which published the scandalous article.

"Though both of the lawyers have tendered an unconditional apology to the Court, it needs to be looked into whether such apology is a bona fide one. Similarly, the respondent no.5 as well as the Publisher and Editor of newspaper ‘Rajdharma’ which has published the said news article, are not before the Court. That being so, we deem it appropriate to defer the hearing of the matter so as to ascertain whether contempt notice should be caused on both these lawyers alongwith the respondent no.5 and the Publisher and Editor of newspaper ‘Rajdharm’. However, we deem it appropriate to cause notice to the respondent no.5 on the aforesaid issue of contempt which is made returnable on January 12, 2024", ordered the Court.

The Court will now consider the matter next on January 12, 2024.

Cause Title: Amar Sadhuram Mulchandani v. Directorate Of Enforcement [CR. WRIT PETITION NO.612 OF 2023]

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