Judge Not Initiating Summary Contempt Proceedings Doesn't Bar Court From Initiating Suo Moto Proceedings: Kerala High Court


Chambers of Ishaan Garg

Ch. No. 217, Western Wing, District & Sessions Court, Tis Hazari, New Delhi, Delhi 110054

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The Kerala High Court has held that if a Judge didn't initiate contempt proceedings in accordance with the procedure as laid down under Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act, it does not bar the High Court from initiating suo moto contempt proceedings under Section 15 of the Act.

The Division Bench of Justice Anil K. Narendran and Justice G. Girish made this observation while deciding the challenge made by Advocate Yeshwanth Shenoy against the contempt proceedings initiated against him.

Section 14 deals with the criminal contempt that is committed in the presence or hearing of a High Court or Supreme Court. The Court can detain the person at once and proceed with the contempt case against him. Section 15 deals with criminal contempt other than that referred to in Section 14.

In this case, Shenoy had appeared in a case before Justice Mary Joseph. He allegedly shouted at the Court and harassed the court. He compelled the Court to record his submission. He then went on and shouted at the Judge, “I will see that your Ladyship is expelled from the seat.”

The contempt proceedings were initiated by a letter from the concerned Judge to the Chief Justice. Shenoy argued that contempt proceedings could be initiated against him only under Section 14 of the Act and not under Section 15 of the Act as the contempt is alleged to have happened inside the Courtroom.

The Court observed that when Contempt is on the face of the Court, it is essential to follow the procedure under Section 14. However if for any reason the said procedure is not followed, it is always open to the High Court to take suo motu cognizance and proceed against the contemnor under Section 15 of the Act.

The respondent had made further arguments that the Registrar General had made a note making a reference to the Supreme Court decision in State v Rajeshwari Prasad (1996).

In that judgment, the Court observed that attributing 'improper motives' to a Judge crosses the limits of fair and bona fide criticism has a tendency to affect the prestige of the Court and amounts to contempt of Court. In the letter, the Judge had no case that Shenoy made allegations of 'improper motive'. Shenoy argued that the Chief Justice might have relied on this note by the Registrar to initiate contempt proceedings against him.

The Court observed that the contents of the letter itself made out a prima facie case for contempt. Therefore, it can be presumed that the Chief Justice considered the letter alone to initiate contempt proceedings against Shenoy.

The Court observed that 'suo moto cognizance of a criminal contempt' is not to vindicate the dignity and honour of any individual judge but to hold the law and majesty of justice. If the court does not take cognizance it would be giving premium to such a person who has no respect for the supremacy of law.

The confidence in the courts of justice which the people possess, cannot, in any way, be allowed to be tarnished, diminished or wiped by the contumacious behaviour of any person. The only weapon of protecting itself from the onslaught on the institution is the long hand of contempt of court left in the armoury of judicial repository, which when needed can reach any neck, how-so-ever-high or far it maybe.”

Case Title: Suo Moto v Yeshwanth Shenoy (2024 Ker HC)