Delhi High Court: Amit Bansal, J., expressed that
Just because the photograph of the summons were sent by the plaintiff to the defendant through WhatsApp cannot amount to overreaching the judicial system or running a parallel system with the judicial system.
The instant petition under Article 227 of the Constitution of India impugned the order passed by District Judge, Tis Hazari Courts, New Delhi whereby the show cause notice had been directed to be issued to petitioner Bank (plaintiff) to be answered and endorsed through the Chairman, as to why criminal contempt should be initiated against him for overreaching the process of the Court.
In the present petition, respondent (defendant) approached the plaintiff for grant of a car loan cum hypothecation scheme of Rs 5,01,000 for the purchase of a vehicle and the loan documents were executed and duly sanctioned to the defendant on 21-11-2019. Later, the defendant defaulted in payments of monthly instalments towards repayment of the loan and consequently issued a notice to recall the loan facility available.
Later, in August 2021, the plaintiff filed a commercial suit for recovery against the defendant.
Summons were issued in the above-stated suit. In terms of the Commercial Court order, the plaintiff took steps for effecting service on the defendant through the ordinary process as well as speed post by filing process fee and sealed covers containing the summons and paper book respectively.
Relevant observations of the Commercial Court:
“Today this kind of debacle was seen in other cases of ICICI Bank Ltd. also but it was ignored. Now it appears that that plaintiff has adopted this kind of practice on a regular basis for the reasons best known to it and it certainly amounts to over reaching the judicial system. No party has a right to start a parallel system along with the judicial proceedings. The plaintiff has been called upon to explain the same.
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Plaintiff to show cause as to why the action be not recommended against it for the criminal contempt of the court for over reaching the process of the court.
Show cause notice be replied, forwarded or endorsed through the Chairman of the plaintiff bank for the next date of hearing.”
High Court’s Decision
High Court opined that there was no occasion at all for the Commercial Court to issue show cause notice for initiating criminal contempt against the plaintiff.
Calling the observations of Commercial Court ‘uncalled for’, the Bench expressed that, Just because the photograph of the summons were sent by the plaintiff to the defendant through WhatsApp cannot amount to overreaching the judicial system or running a parallel system with the judicial system.
The Bench noted that the plaintiff had duly filed process fees and taken steps for issuance of regular summons to the defendant through the ordinary process as well as speed post and the photograph of summons were sent through WhatsApp only as an additional measure.
The above-stated cannot be an attempt to overreach the judicial proceedings. Therefore, the Commercial Court had completely gone overboard is issuing notice for initiating contempt proceedings.
Supreme Court in its judgment in Dr Prodip Kumar Biswas v. Subrata Das, (2004) 4 SCC 573, while dealing with the issue of criminal contempt has observed that proceedings for criminal contempt can be initiated only when the act prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with the course of judicial proceeding or administration of justice. Contempt of court is a special jurisdiction which ought to be exercised sparingly and with great caution.
Power to take cognizance in Contempt of Courts
As per Sections 10 and 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, High Courts have the power to take cognizance in respect of contempt of courts subordinate to it. Subordinate Courts cannot assume jurisdiction and issue show cause notice as to why contempt proceedings be not initiated.
A subordinate court can only make a reference to the High Court for initiating contempt proceedings.
In view of the above discussion, Commercial Court’s order suffered from patent illegality and was also without jurisdiction, hence the same cannot be sustained. [ICICI Bank Ltd. v. Rashmi Sharma, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 112, decided on 12-1-2022]
Advocates before the Court:
For the petitioner: Dayan Krishnan, Sr. Advocate with Ripu Daman Bhardwaj, Deepak Kaushik and Sanjeev Bakshi, Advocates
For the respondent: None