Cannot subscribe to 'slap-say sorry-and forget' approach: Calcutta HC on why hollow "paper apologies" will not ward off Contempt of Court
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Cannot subscribe to 'slap-say sorry-and forget' approach: Calcutta HC on why hollow "paper apologies" will not ward off Contempt of Court

"If apology is offered at a time when the contemnor finds that the court is going to impose punishment it ceases to be an apology and it becomes an act of cringing coward", the Court said.

Meera Emmanuel

The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday emphasised that paper apologies would not absolve a party who apologises as part of a calculated strategy when it becomes apparent that the Court is going to impose punishment for Contempt of Court [The Federal Agency for State Property Management of the Russian Federation (ROSIMUSHCESTVO) v. Saraf Agency Pvt. Ltd. & Ors.]

Justice Somen Sen observed,

"We are sorry to say we cannot subscribe to the ‘slap-say sorry-and forget’ school of thought in administration of contempt jurisprudence. Saying ‘sorry’ does not make the slapper taken the slap smart less upon the said hypocritical word being uttered. Apology shall not be paper apology and expression of sorrow should come from the heart and not from the pen. For it is one thing to ‘say’ sorry-it is another to ‘feel sorry.'"
Calcutta High Court

In this case, the Court found a company and two of its directors liable for wilfully disobeying an interim order passed in November 2016.

While the contemnors contended that no contempt of Court was committed, an affidavit was also filed offering an "unqualified apology" in the event their acts "unintentionally" amounted to a violation of the Court's 2016 order.

The Judge eventually ruled that the contemnors were guilty of contempt of Court, adding that the corporate veil, in this case, would not save them from facing punishment for the same.

The judge remarked, "it is clear that the law of contempt is conceived in the public interest. In the event the corporate veil is being blatantly used as a cloak to wilfully disobey the orders of the court – an improper purpose, lifting the corporate veil, in those circumstances, is imperative to punish improper conduct. Public interest requires that the corporate veil must be lifted to find out the person who disobeyed the order of the court."

Notably, the Court opined that the contingent apology tendered by the contemnors was not genuine, especially given that there were repeated and relentless attempts on the part of the contemnors to justify that there was no breach of the interim order.

The judge observed, "Apology cannot be a defence, justification, or a calculated strategy to avoid punishment for act which tantamount to contempt of court, and is not to be accepted as a matter of course... Apology cannot be accepted where it is hollow, there is no remorse, no regret, no repentance, or if it is only a device to escape rigour of law i.e. it is merely 'paper apology.'"

Referring to the case of Mulk Raj v. State of Punjab, the Court further explained,

"Apology is an act of contrition. Unless apology is offered at the earliest opportunity and in good grace apology is shorn of penitence. If apology is offered at a time when the contemnor finds that the court is going to impose punishment it cease to be an apology and it becomes an act of cringing coward. "
Calcutta High Court

The Court proceeded to conclude that the apology offered by the contemnors in this case was only intended to get rid of the consequences of the acts of contempt.

Therefore, to vindicate the outraged divinity of the Court, the Judge directed that Rs. 30,000 each be paid for the company and by two directors of the company.

The payment has to be made within six weeks to the High Court's Registrar General. Out of this amount, the Court has directed that Rs 1 lakh be transferred to the State Legal Service Authority and that the balance amount of Rs.80,000 be transferred to the West Bengal State Emergency Relief Fund.

Read the Judgment:

ROSIMUSHCESTVO v. Saraf Agency Pvt. Ltd. & Ors - Calcutta HC Judgment.pdf
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