suspension of medical license for contempt of court

Supreme Court: In a case where the Supreme Court was called upon to decide whether the suspension of license to practice medicine can be handed down under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, the bench of BR Gavai and Sanjay Karol, JJ has answered in negative and has held that awarding such punishment will be a complete disregard for the statutory text of the Contempt of Courts Act 1971.

The Court explained that the grant, regulation and suspension of the licence to practice medicine is governed by the National Medical Commission Act, 2019. A statutory body namely the National Medical Commission maintains a medical register for India and enforces high ethical standards in regards of all aspects of medical services. Further, the Act itself provides for an exhaustive, complete mechanism to revoke the licence of a registered practitioner for professional misconduct and the same may be done after holding an inquiry and complying with the principles of audi alterum partem.

Whereas, the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, on the other hand clearly prescribes the punishment under Section 12(1) as simple imprisonment, not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding Rs. 2,000/- Sub-Section (2) reads “notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force” this implies that save and except the punishment provided in sub-Section (1) no other punishment can be prescribed to a person guilty of committing contempt of Court.

Hence, the suspension of license to practice medicine as a punishment to the contemnor is entirely foreign to Contempt of Courts Act and, therefore, unsustainable.

“A medical practitioner guilty of contempt of Court may also be so for professional misconduct but the same would depend on the gravity/nature of the contemptuous conduct of the person in question. They are, however, offences separate and distinct from each other. The former is regulated by the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 and the latter is under the jurisdiction of the National Medical Commission Act, 2019.”

The Court, hence, set aside the Calcutta High Court judgment whereby the suspension of a contemnor’s licence to practice medicine, was upheld.

[Gostho Behari Das v. Dipak Kumar Sanyal, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 889, decided on 28.07.2023]

Judgment Authored by Justice Sanjay Karol

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