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The Delhi High Court has held that high courts do not have the jurisdiction to entertain criminal contempt references received from the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT).
The Court has iterated that Article 323A of the Constitution of India and Section 17 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 empowers the CAT itself to exercise the same jurisdiction, powers and authority in respect of its contempt as a high court in terms of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
Section 15(2) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, however, will not have any application in the context of contempt at CAT, it further held.
The judgment was passed by a Division Bench of Justices Manmohan and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal in a contempt case registered on the basis of a reference received by the Registrar General, Delhi High Court. The same was sent by the Principal Registrar, CAT with respect to an order passed by its Principal Bench.
Contempt was sought to be initiated against Advocate Mehmood Pracha.
After notice was issued in the matter, Senior Advocate Dayan Krishnan, who was appointed as Amicus Curiae, raised the issue of maintainability of the criminal contempt reference.
He stated that the CAT has the jurisdiction to deal with contempt and that it has the same powers as a high court in this respect.
After hearing Krishnan, the Court observed that Article 323A(2)(b) of the Constitution provided that an administrative tribunal constituted under Article 323A(1) was empowered to punish for contempt if the statute establishing it provided for the same.
It further noted that Section 17 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 specifically empowered the CAT to exercise the same jurisdiction, powers, and authority in respect of contempt as a high court under the Contempt of Courts Act.
The Court also recorded that the CAT itself has framed the Contempt of Courts (CAT) Rules, 1992 for initiation of criminal contempt as well as suo motu contempt proceedings.
Reliance was also placed on the decision of the Supreme Court in T Sudhakar Prasad v Govt. of AP (2001) to observe that although the power of the high court to punish for contempt under Article 215 of the Constitution remained intact, the same powers and jurisdiction are also vested with CAT.
It further said that Section 17 of the Administrative Tribunal Act was enacted to avoid doubts with respect to the exercise of contempt jurisdiction and because the Tribunals are not “courts of record”.
The Court thus remitted the criminal contempt reference to the CAT after holding,
“Accordingly, the present reference is remitted back to the C.A.T. as it has the exclusive jurisdiction to entertain criminal contempt proceedings in the first instance.”
Senior Advocate Dayan Krishnan appeared as Amicus Curiae with Advocates Manvi Priya and Sanjeevi Seshadri.
The respondent appeared in person along with Advocates Rudro Chatterjee, RHA Sikander and Prateek Gupta.
Read the Judgment: