The Supreme Court has sentenced three people, held guilty of contempt of court for making “scurrilous and scandalous allegations” against two sitting judges of the apex court, to 3-month jail observing that it was a “concerted effort to virtually hold the judiciary to ransom”.
The top court had on April 27 held advocate Vijay Kurle, state president of Maharashtra and Goa of the Indian Bar Association, advocate Nilesh Ojha, President of the Indian Bar Association and Rashid Khan Pathan, national secretary of NGO Human Rights Security Council, guilty of contempt of court for making scandalous allegations against the judges.
A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose heard on May 4, through video-conferencing, the issue of quantum of sentence in the matter and said “there is not an iota of remorse or any semblance of apology on behalf of the contemnors”.
“In view of the scurrilous and scandalous allegations levelled against the judges of this court and no remorse being shown by any of the contemnors we are of the considered view that they cannot be let off leniently,” the bench said in its May 4 order, while noting that none of advocates for the three contemnors were willing to argue on the issue of sentence.
“We, therefore, sentence all the three contemnors namely Vijay Kurle, Nilesh Ojha and Rashid Khan Pathan, to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of 3 months each with a fine of Rs 2,000,” the apex court said.
The bench directed however that keeping in view the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown conditions, the sentence shall come into force after 16 weeks when the three should surrender before the secretary general of the apex court to undergo the imprisonment.
“Otherwise, warrants for their arrest shall be issued,” the bench said.
On March 27, last year, the apex court had sentenced advocate Mathews J Nedumpara to three months in jail for contempt of court and attempting to “browbeat” judges but suspended the sentence after taking note of the unconditional apology tendered by him.
On the same day, the top court had issued contempt notices to Kurle, Pathan and Ojha for “scandalous allegations” levelled against to two of its judges.
In its May 4 order, the top court said: “We have also held in our judgment that the complaints were sent by the contemnors with a view to intimidate the judges who were yet to hear Nedumpara on the question of punishment, so that no action against Nedumpara is taken. Therefore, it is obvious that this is a concerted effort to virtually hold the judiciary to ransom.”
The top court rejected an application filed by Ojha, who had sought recusal of one of the judges on the ground that the bench is in “a hurry to decide the matter”.
“One of us (Deepak Gupta, J) is to demit office on May 6, 2020 and, therefore, the matter had to be heard and we see no ground for one of us to recuse. The application is accordingly rejected,” it said, while also dismissing another application seeking adjournment in the matter.
The bench also dealt with applications filed by the contemnors, who had sought recall of the April 27 judgment on the ground that it was not as per the law laid down by the top court.
“No recall application can lie on these grounds and the proper remedy for the contemnors is to file a review petition, if so advised,” the bench said.
In its April 27 verdict, the top court had said that citizens can criticise the judgments but no one has the right to attribute motives or question the bona fide of judges.
It had said that any attempt to browbeat judges have to be dealt with sternly.
The apex court had also said that bona fide and constructive criticism of any institution including the judiciary and judgments pronounced by it is always welcome and cannot amount to contempt of court.