Delhi High Court: Whether the third party can be absolved from contempt if they are informed that their conduct would violate the Court order, Subramonium Prasad, J., reiterated the well-settled position that though broadly a person who is not a party to the proceedings cannot be proceeded against for violation of the order, but a third party cannot seek to absolve themselves if they are informed about the fact that their conduct amounts to a violation of the Court and that despite the information, they choose to willfully flout the mandate of the Court.
A contempt petition had been filed for wilful disobedience of this Court’s Order.
Petitioner had inherited a property from her late sister. The brother-in-law i.e., R.N. Kapur of the petitioner resided on the ground floor of that property along with his wife who was also the petitioner’s sister. On her death, R.N. Kapur filed a suit claiming to be the owner of the ground floor of the property.
It was stated that the above-stated suit was settled before and in terms of the said settlement, a joint application under Order XXIII Rule 1/3 read with Section 151 CPC was filed before this Court and a decree was passed in presence of the plaintiff and defendants. After the death of R.N. Kapur, the petitioner with directions of this Court took possession of the property.
Further, it was found that respondents 1,2 and 3 had trespassed the property in question. Consequently, the petitioner filed a complaint before the local police and an FIR was registered under Sections 448/34 IPC.
Respondents were also made aware of the undertaking given by R.N. Kapur and despite being made aware of the same, they did not vacate the premises which resulted in the present filing of contempt petition.
The question that arose in the present matter was:
Whether respondents committed contempt of Court or not?
Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines “civil contempt” as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a Court.
High Court expressed that the law of contempt had been brought primarily to secure public respect and confidence in the judicial process and provide a sanction for any act or conduct which is likely to destroy or impair such respect and confidence.
In U.N. Bora v. Assam Roller Flour Mills Assn., (2022) 1 SCC 101, after analysing the various principles of law on the point rendered, the Supreme Court itself has laid down the parameters as to when action under the Contempt of Courts Act should be initiated.
As per the facts of the case, respondent 1 claimed ownership of the property through Will given by R.N. Kapur which was executed before the decree was passed on 14-3-2012 which was passed in pursuance of the Settlement Agreement which was based upon the undertaking that had been given by R.N. Kapur.
The Bench stated that the undertaking given by R.N. Kapoor before this Court will take precedence over the Will executed by him prior to giving the said undertaking.
The Court opined that the undertaking given to the Court has to be respected and cannot be permitted to be circumvented by saying that the respondents were not parties to the suit and have not given the undertaking.
Hence, the contention that the respondent cannot be held liable for the contempt of the Court as they were not parties to the Suit and had not given the undertaking to the Court cannot be accepted.
The Court observed that,
Disobedience of an order of the Court, if permitted, will result in striking at the root of the rule of law on which our system of governance is based.
Therefore, the power to punish for contempt is necessary for the maintenance of an effective legal system and the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 had been legislated to prevent interference in the course of administration of justice.
Stating the assuming that respondent 1 was initially not aware of the consent decree, the moment she was informed about the undertaking given by R.N. Kapur, through whom respondent 1 derived title, she ought to have respected the same and not breached it, hence the High Court held that obstinate and wilful act on the part of the respondent not to obey consent decree amounted to civil contempt.
High Court decided that the respondents were liable for punishment under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. [Indra Pasricha v. Deepika Chauhan, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 1090, decided on 19-4-2022]
Advocates before the Court:
For the Petitioner:
Mr Ashutosh Lohia, Mr Soumya Kumar, Advocates
For the Respondents:
Mr Ravi P Mehrotra, Senior Advocate with Mr Vibhu Tiwari, Advocate for R-1 & R-3
Mr Gautam Narayan, ASC for GNCTD with Mr Aditya Nair, Advocate for SHO, Hauz Khas