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The Madras High Court recently had occasion to draw the curtains on a “legal play” of sorts involving a disgruntled litigant who had called a judicial magistrate a bastard and whose no-onion childhood diet eventually found a place in the judicial order sentencing him for contempt of Court.
The peculiar case was traced back to a civil dispute lost by one, Manoharan, before a District Civil Court. Embittered by his loss, Manoharan is alleged to have berated his legal opponent one night and thereafter shown his private parts to his opponent’s family, including a minor daughter.
This led to a criminal case being lodged against Manoharan. A Judicial Magistrate, K Arunachalam, eventually awarded him a conviction under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act.
Aggrieved by the same, Manoharan first filed an appeal before the Sessions Court. At the same time, he also approached the Madurai Bench of the High Court to quash the criminal proceedings. However, the High Court’s appeal examiner did not number the petition as he felt the same was not maintainable. Instead, he posted it before the Court for deciding on the issue of maintainability.
Manoharan chose to respond by sending a representation in August 2017 condemning the appeal examiner as a “fraud” and, in the passing, referring the Judicial Magistrate, K Arunachalam as a “bastard” who had killed justice. The representation was sent to the Registrar (Judicial) with copies to the President of India, the Prime Minister of India, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the Chief Justice of Madras High Court.
Manoharan, on his part, decided to defend himself and categorically stood by his controversial August representation. He went on to claim truth as a defence under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972. The Court noted,
“… in his oral submissions as well as in the written submissions, he did not show any iota of remorse or penitence for having called Mr.Arunachalam a “Bastard” and Mr.Ganesan [appeal examiner] a “Fraud”. He sought to justify his act by contending that the learned Magistrate had colluded with Anganan and convicted him (Manoharan) illegally. He submitted that u/s 13 (b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, truth is a valid defence. Therefore, he argued that great injustice was done to him by Mr.Arunachalam, Judicial Magistrate and Mr.Ganesan, Appeal Examiner.”
Manoharan’s prospects of leniency from the Court gradually fell apart after it was found that his reckless, abusive references to the Court were deliberate.
“Initially, we felt that Manoharan was giving vent to his frustration after having lost in the legal battle before the civil court and criminal court. Unfortunately, we were sadly mistaken because, Manoharan justified the abuses by contending that he had consciously used the expression “Bastard” in order to draw the attention of this Court to his plight.
We reasoned it out with him by saying that, whatever injustice he feels he has suffered by the judgment of conviction passed by Mr.Arunachalam, the same could be rectified by the Appellate Court and the Revisional Court… We also told him that, if he had really wanted to draw the attention of the High Court to the so-called. sufferings undergone by him, hurling nasty invectives at the trial Magistrate cannot be the route at all and the only way is to file a properly maintainable petition. Our exhortation went in vain and Manoharan simply did not relent, but, continued to justify his action.”
The Court, therefore, proceeded to convict Manoharan to three months’ simple imprisonment for his contemptuous conduct.
Solemn duty of Court to guard against brazen attacks
The Court reasoned its decision to hold Manoharan guilty of Court contempt on the ground that his abuse of the subordinate judge would effectively hamper the administration of justice. As explained in the order,
“In our view, calling a judicial officer “Bastard” would not only demoralise him, but indubitably interfere with the due course of justice by instilling fear in his mind. Once the emotion “fear” afflicts a judicial officer, he will not be able to discharge the onerous responsibility of administering justice. Honour is the bedrock of human life and if that is unjustly annihilated, what remains is only a living corpse. If a disgruntled litigant is allowed to go scot-free even after he called a Judicial Officer a “bastard”, the Judicial Officer will not be able to command respect in his Court from litigants and other stakeholders. All this will hamper the administration of justice.”
The Court proceeded to warn that it would also not take assaults on its staff members lying low. The Bench highlighted,
“… the staff members of the Court are also not orphans, but, are an integral part of the Court system. The litigants should not think that whatever rubbish they dump in the Registry, has to be automatically registered and posted before the Court.”
The Court also remarked that it was solemnly obliged to protect its subordinate judges and court officers, as the elder brother in the judicial set up. Its order records,
“The High Court has a solemn duty to protect and safeguard the judicial officers of the Subordinate Judiciary against such brazen attacks by disgruntled litigants. Our judicial set up is akin to a Hindu undivided joint family, where the Kartha is the Supreme Court, the eldest brother is the High Court and the younger siblings are the Courts subordinate to the High Court.