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Though the Supreme Court today accepted the apology tendered by lawyer Mohit Chaudhary in the contempt case against him, it has barred him from practising as Advocate-on-record for one month.
The judgment was delivered by a Bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justices DY Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
The incident leading to the contempt case happened on April 7, when Chaudhary alleged “manipulation” by the Supreme Court Registry in the listing of a case. He stated in open Court during mentioning that the matter was to go before a regular Bench and there was no need to list it before a Special Bench.
However, the causelist revealed that the Bench had not changed as alleged and the same Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Abdul Nazeer which had heard the matter before was slated to hear the case, though sitting as a Special Bench.
This had prompted a strong rebuke from the Bench, which issued contempt notice to the lawyer right away.
“There is a judicial order. You people think you can tell anything here. Are you not ashamed of yourself? What nonsense is this? We are going to issue contempt notice right away. If you cannot satisfy us you will go straight to jail. File an affidavit in one hour in reply to the contempt notice”, CJI Khehar had remarked.
Subsequently, Chaudhary had filed an affidavit apologising for his conduct. When the contempt case was taken up for hearing, SCBA President RS Suri, Secretary Gaurav Bhatia and Senior Advocate KK Venugopal had tendered apologies on behalf of Chaudhary.
The Court considered the above but noted in its order that it is unable to persuade itself to let the contemnor go scot-free.
“On examination of the legal principles an important issue emerges: what should be the end of what the contemnor had started but has culminated in an impassioned plea of Mr. K.K.Venugopal, learned senior advocate supported by the representatives of the Bar present in Court, marking their appearance for the contemnor. We are inclined to give due consideration to such a plea, but are unable to persuade ourselves to let the contemnor go scot-free, without any consequences. We are thus not inclined to proceed further in the contempt jurisdiction except to caution the contemnor that this should be the first and the last time of such a misadventure. But the matter cannot rest only at that.”
The Court further observed that it was not an innocent act but a “well thought out decision to tread an unfortunate path”. Referring to Rule 10 of Order IV of the Advocate-on-Record Rules, the Court held that the conduct of the AoR was a clear abuse of privilege of being an AoR. The Court, therefore, held
“We are thus of the view that the appropriate course of action would be that the contemnor is not permitted to practice as an Advocate-on-Record, for a period of one month from the date of the order. A painful task had to be performed and is performed.”
Interestingly, the Court in its judgment also observed that its contempt jurisdiction can be exercised not only to protect the reputation of judges but also the Registry.
“The contempt jurisdiction is not only to protect the reputation of the concerned Judge so that he can administer Justice fearlessly and fairly, but also to protect “the fair name of the judiciary”. The protection in a manner of speaking, extends even to the Registry in the performance of its task and false and unfair allegations which seek to impede the working of the Registry and thus the administration of Justice, made with oblique motives cannot be tolerated.”
Read the judgment below.