The Supreme Court has held that the proceedings against a person accused of contempt of court could not be initiated merely on speculation, assumptions and inference drawn from the fact and circumstances of the case, but only on ‘wilful disobedience’ of the court’s order.
‘In our considered opinion’, the apex court bench of Justice J.M. Panchal and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra said the ‘contempt of a civil nature can be held to have been made out only if there has been a wilful disobedience of the (court) order….’
Speaking for the bench, Justice Mishra said that even though there may be disobedience, ‘yet if the same does not reflect that it has been a conscious and wilful disobedience, a case for contempt cannot be held to have been made out’. The judgment was made available Friday.
‘In fact, if an order is capable of more than one interpretation giving rise to variety of consequences, non-compliance of the same cannot be held to be wilful disobedience of the order so as to make out a case of contempt entailing the serious consequence including imposition of punishment,’ the judgment said.
However, when the courts are confronted with a question as to whether a given situation could be treated to be a case of wilful disobedience or a case of a lame excuse in order to subvert its compliance, it would depend on the facts and circumstances of the individual cases.
The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 clearly postulates and emphasises that the ingredients of the wilful disobedience must be there before any one can hauled for the charge of contempt of a civil nature, the apex court said, setting aside the initiation of contempt proceedings by the single judge of the Jaipur bench of Rajasthan High Court against its Deputy Registrar (Judicial) Dinesh Kumar Gupta.
The high court initiated the contempt proceedings on the assumption that Gupta sat over the case file where in an inquiry was ordered against the judge of a Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, at Jaipur.
This tribunal, presided over by S.K. Bansal, had awarded compensation to Kaushalya Devi and others from the United India Insurance in 2001. When the matter came up for hearing before the high court in 2006, Bansal had already retired.
Setting aside the high court order directing the initiation of contempt proceedings against Gupta, the judgment said that the high court judge had ‘inferred and assumed erroneously that the appellant (Gupta) had the intention of obstructing the administration of justice’.
Gupta could not attract the charge of shielding Bansal, who had retired in 2003, as he only took over deputy registrar in 2005, the apex court judgment said, adding initiation of the contempt proceeding against Gupta ‘is based on a wholly wrong premise based on unsustainable and unfounded facts which cannot be treated sufficient material so as to initiate contempt proceeding….’