‘Sword of Damocles’ has been hanging for the past 17 years; Delhi High Court discharges show cause notices in contempt case against Tis Hazari Lawyers

The present contempt proceedings are pending adjudication since 2006 and all the alleged Contemnors have expressed their deep remorse and have stated that they have the utmost respect for the institution of judiciary and that it was never their intention to cause any distress or to do anything that could be construed as undermining the majesty and dignity of the Court of Law.

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Delhi High Court: A criminal contempt proceeding was taken up suo-motu upon receiving numerous complaints from legal practitioners and a report dated 24.02.2006 authored by the District & Sessions Judge relating to the incident that occurred on 24-02-2006 at the Tis Hazari Courts, in addition to earlier incidents at the Tis Hazari and the Rohini Courts, where advocates went on strike, opposing the establishment of the Rohini Court complex. A full bench of Siddharth Mridul, Rajnish Bhatnagar, and Anoop Kumar Mendiratta, JJ., discharged the Show Cause Notices issued to the remaining alleged Contemnors in the present criminal contempt proceedings asking to show cause why criminal contempt be not drawn against the alleged contemnors.

On 24-02-2006, a comprehensive report was forwarded to the Court by the District & Sessions Judge, Justice S.N. Dhingra, highlighting the need for initiating suo motu contempt of the Court proceedings against the errant advocates, which included numerous supporting documents, as well as reports from other Judges and officials functioning at the Tis Hazari Courts. Consequently, Show Cause Notices were issued to 25 individuals, requiring them to justify why they should not be penalized for committing the offence of criminal contempt of court, based on the allegations outlined in various reports and other supporting material. An interim order was passed imposing restrictions on the alleged Contemnors, prohibiting them from approaching within 500-meters from the premises of the Court compound of Delhi High Court or any Subordinate Courts falling under its jurisdiction, including Courts/Tribunals under its supervisory jurisdiction.

Few responses to the show cause notices were filed explicitly asserting that they were not accountable for the acts of vandalism and provided a solemn undertaking that they shall refrain from engaging in any acts of vandalism, obstructing the ingress or egress of advocates attending the court proceedings, or disrupting the functioning of Court. Thus, the interim restraint order was modified by the Supreme Court stipulating that the petitioners would be allowed to carry out their professional duties pertaining to Courts and Tribunals, but they must refrain from engaging in any activity that the High Court has objected to.

FIR was registered under Sections 147, 149, 186, 353, 332, 427, 188 and 120-B of the Penal Code, 1860 and Sections 3 and 4 of the Prevention of Damage of Public Property Act and a chargesheet was filed. During the period from March to September 2006, a total of 13 Contemnors/Respondents were either discharged or removed from the present criminal contempt proceedings, and 12 contemnors and respondents are still part of the proceedings.

The Court noted that the Court had appropriately exercised its suo motu jurisdiction with respect to the occurrence of the purported incident that transpired in the District Courts of Delhi since the present proceedings are initiated against advocates, there is an additional requirement for stringent proof that this Court must fulfil.

On perusal of the evidence placed on record e-reports submitted by then District & Session Judge, complaints lodged by various other Judges of the District Court, their Court Staff, Advocates, Media Personnel, as well as the statements recorded under Section 161 CrPC along with video CDs, Circulars, and press releases, the Court noted that there is no evidence linking the damage caused to the court rooms with the protest by the Advocates/alleged Contemnors. Moreover, these actions cannot be directly attributed to the alleged Contemnors. Consequently, the material including the subject videos fails to provide any direct evidence connecting the damage allegedly caused to courtrooms with the Advocates’ protest. Furthermore, the videos do not furnish any evidence of Advocates manhandling their colleagues, obstructing the Administration of Justice, or supporting any other allegations made against the alleged Contemnors in the present proceedings.

Thus, the Court held that there exists no substantial evidence to establish obstruction of justice, acts of manhandling, or destruction of property. Therefore, it cannot be conclusively established that the act of protesting interfered with the administration of justice.

[In re to consider Suo Motu Contempt of Court v. Proceedings against the Tis Hazari Lawyers, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 4433, decided on 28-07-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For the Petitioners: Mr. Sidharth Luthra, Senior Advocate as Amicus Curiae along with Ms. Shubhangi Jain, Mr. Yash Giri, Mr. Raju and Mr. Adityaa, Advocates;

For the Respondents /Contemnors: 1) Mr. Rajiv Khosla, Contemnor/Respondent No.1 in-person;

2) Mr. Jagdeep Singh Bakshi, Senior Advocate along with Mr. Praveen K. Sharma, Advocate with Mr. Sanjeev Nasiar, Contemnor/Respondent No. 2 in-person;

3) Mr. N. Hariharan, Senior Advocate along with Mr. Prateek Bhalla, Mr. Rahul Sambher, Ms. Adeeb Ahmed, Mohd. Qasim Ms. Punya Rekha Angara, Advocates for Mr. Jaiveer Singh Chauhan Contemnor/Respondent No.3 in-person;

4) Mr. A.K. Gupta, Contemnor/Respondent No. 4 in-person;

5) Mr. Dharmavir, Contemnor/Respondent No. 7 in-person;

6) Mr. Inder Singh Saroha, Contemnor/Respondent No. 8 in-person;

7) Mr. Sudhir Kumar Singh, Contemnor/Respondent No. 9 in-person;

8) Mr. Sunil Sherawat, Contemnor/Respondent No. 12 in-person;

9) Mr. Vikas Arya, Contemnor/Respondent No. 17 in-person;

10) Mr. G.S. Sandhu, Contemnor/Respondent No. 21 in-person;

11) Mr. Anil Kumar Chauhan, Contemnor/Respondent No. 22 in person;

12) Mr. Madan Lal Gupta, Contemnor/Respondent No. 24 in-person.

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