Court has to take its contempt jurisdiction seriously: Madras High Court rejects Labour Commissioner's "empty apology" [Read Order]

"The apologies of this nature are usually not deeper than skin deep and have been always used as a well-protected shield from being taken to task in contempt proceedings," the Court said.
Court has to take its contempt jurisdiction seriously: Madras High Court rejects Labour Commissioner's "empty apology" [Read Order]
Madras High Court

Government officials should not to be allowed to undermine the Constitutional jurisdiction of the High Court, emphasised the Madras High Court on Thursday while pulling up a Labour Commissioner for failing to comply with its earlier order, apart from his empty apology (K Yogaraj v Commissioner of Labour and anr).

The High Court admonished the Commissioner for the hollow apology tendered over his allegedly errant conduct, observing:

"The apologies of this nature are usually not deeper than skin deep and have been always used as a well protected shield from being taken to task in contempt proceedings. The Courts have also been very fairly gracious in accepting such empty apologies in overlooking contemptuous actions of the officials. But this time and in this case, this Court has to take its contempt jurisdiction seriously... "

The Court further recalled a quote of British vintage, attributed to Lord Diplock, in contempt jurisdiction, to sum up the import of the matter:

"There is an element of public policy in punishing civil contempt, since administration of justice would be undermined if the order of any Court of law could be disregarded with impunity."

The apparent contempt of court came to light earlier this month, when Justice V Parthiban found that an order had been passed by the Commissioner directly questioning the authority of the (High) Court by relying on an irrelevant decision of the Supreme Court.

This amounted to "committing a blatant contempt of the Constitutional jurisdiction of this Court", Justice Parthiban said, while directing the Commissioner to explain his conduct.

 Justice V Parthiban
Justice V Parthiban

The affidavit filed by the Commissioner, apologizing for his error did not find much favour with the Court, which opined on Thursday that the same contains "cliched, trite and common place expression of 'apology' accompanied by usual mundane deferential verbalisms not intended to convey true sense of regret for his crafty transgression."

The affidavit prompted the Judge to muse that it is time that the Court act strictly against such contemptuous actions.

As far as this case was concerned, the judge found the apology tendered by the Commissioner unsatisfactory citing the following reasons:

  • The official belongs to the All India Service and is supposed to foresee the consequences of his actions.

  • There was no occasion for the official to claim that he was not aware of the order of stay that he had disobeyed.

  • An irrelevant Supreme Court judgment was pitchforked by the official into this issue. Whereas the Supreme Court Judgement in question i.e. Asian Resurfacing Of Road Agency Private Limited and another vs Central Bureau Of Investigation concerned criminal law, the official cleverly and conveniently misunderstood its import and applied it to a matter that concerned service jurisprudence.

  • The official ought to have consulted law offiicers of the government before disregarding the High Court's order of stay, while the records did not reflect any such consultation.

  • The official's explanation that he was under the bona fide impression about the applicability of the Supreme Court judgment appears to be far fetched and does not carry conviction.

Even assuming the official had acted unwittingly, the larger issue is "whether it is open to the officials of the government to defy the subsisting interim order of the Constitutional Court on the pretext of following the principle laid down by the Hon'ble Supreme Court relating to a different set of facts and circumstances", the Court said.

It went on to emphasise:

"This issue assumes paramount importance as the officials of the government ought not be allowed to undermine the Constitutional jurisdiction of this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India in derogation of the powers of judicial review and due compliance to the judicial orders."

All the same, the Court proceeded to afford the Labour Commissioner one more opportunity to explain his conduct, following which orders would be passed.

The matter has been posted for December 22.

[Read orders]

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K Yogaraj v. Commissioner of Labour and anr - December 10 order.pdf
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K Yogaraj v Commissioner of Labour and anr - December 17 order.pdf
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