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The Punjab & Haryana High Court recently sentenced an Advocate to a month’s simple imprisonment for contempt of Court, over a Facebook post criticising the judicial conduct of a High Court judge.
The post in question was attributed to the personal Facebook account of Advocate Manish Vashishth, who also works as a correspondent for the Punjab Kesari (Hisar Edition).
The Facebook post criticised the conduct of Justice Inderjit Singh in ruling against the Advocate/contemnor last August, while deciding a dispute between him and two BSNL employees. These employees, and their lawyer, HPS Ghuman, later brought the attention of the High Court to the social media post.
A translated version of the post, which finds mention in the judgment reads as follows:
“August I had appeared in the Hon’ble High Court before Hon’ble Mr. Justice Inderjit Singh. On that there were three matters of mine listed before the Hon’ble Court of Justice Inderjit Singh and when I wanted to state about law, he started threatening me for writing contempt reference against me. I told that it is your will, got flared up. Without hearing me, the three matters decided against me in illegal manners.
Today there has been 7 days since 24 August but in only one matter the order has been uploaded on the website, which is not speaking, the decision better than this can be written by a Magistrate. In two matters the orders have not been uploaded till today, perhaps, has not got dictated, what should dictate, must be thinking. The decision is false, it would demand hard labour for got it written.
When Magistrate does not load order on website till 5 P.M. then this High Court would take up danda. Himself has taken 7 days and it is not sure how many days would be taken for uploading.
From the conduct of Justice Inderjit Singh of that day, I think if there had been camera in the Court, everybody would have known the reality of Hon’ble Judge.
It is not uploaded till today. My lord must not be understanding, what to get written.”
The post was found to be deleted by the time the Bench of MMS Bedi and Hari Pal Verma took up the case. However, certain other factors eventually prompted the Court to conclude that the contemptuous Facebook post existed and further that it was made by the Advocate.
Importantly, the Court’s attention was drawn to previous instances where the Advocate had filed complaints against judicial officers. Following an inquiry made with the Court Registry, the Bench found that the Advocate had filed complaints against at least five judges between 2014 and 2015. The Bench noted that the contemnor had a history of making complaints and browbeating the Judicial Officers. The Bench ultimately concluded,
“We are satisfied that the contemnor is a habitual complaint maker. He is an Advocate as well as journalist and uses his wisdom and knowledge to malign the Judicial Officers. Contemnor is in the habit of complaining against everyone who comes in contact with him during the course of professional routine.”
On the legal side, it was noted that the High Court, being a Court of record, has sufficient inherent powers to punish the Advocate for contempt, even beyond the confines of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Relying on precedents, the Court’s duty to preserve the authority and dignity of the Court was emphasised. Various technical objections raised by the Advocate were also rejected as being devoid of merit.
These hurdles aside, the Court found the content of the post itself to be derogatory and contemptuous on the face of the record. Therefore, it was concluded as follows,
“In view of the above circumstances, we arrive at a conclusion that the contemptuous publication Annexure P-8 had originated from the facebook account of the contemnor. It was made public but after the same had been read by the general public, the same was deleted. It is also established on the record from the affidavits of Ishwar Singh Yadav, Jagparvesh and Jai parkash that the said publication had been downloaded.”
However, it was directed that the imprisonment sentence should not be implemented until after the end of the Court vacation, considering the contemnor’s right to appeal before the Supreme Court. The contemnor was directed to surrender before the concerned Chief Judicial Magistrate on July 31, 2018.