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Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT): A Division Bench of Justice L. Narasimha Reddy (Chairman) and A.K. Bishnoi (Administrative Member) took Suo Motu cognizance of the behaviour of an Advocate who made attempts to hoodwink the tribunal.

Background

Sanjiv Chaturvedi an IFS officer of Uttarakhand Cadre was on deputation to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi for some period who filed different Applications with regard to recording of ACRs and was represented by Mehmood Paracha, Advocate.

On completion of his deputation, he was repatriated to his parent cadre.

Advocate stated that the Supreme Court dismissed the SLP filed by the AIIMS, by imposing the cost of Rs 25,000. He was also informed that the adjudication before the Uttarakhand High Court and the Supreme Court was only about the power of the Chairman under Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 to stay the proceedings while dealing with an application for transfer and that issue no longer subsists, with the adjudication by the Courts.

Sanjiv Chaturvedi was flamboyant in his approach and was in fact exhibiting triumphalism in getting the order of stay passed in the transfer petition, set aside.

Adjournment | Contempt of Court

Further, the applicant i.e. Sanjiv Chaturvedi was also informed that he can argue the PTs themselves so that the issue can be given a quietus. That did not appeal to him and he went on almost browbeating the Chairman and trying to explain as to how the Tribunal should function.

At that stage, he was informed that his conduct before the Tribunal touched the border of the Contempt of Court and it is for him to choose the course of action. Thereupon, he sought adjournment.

Counsel for the respondent, Mehmood Pracha, stated that the Supreme Court dismissed the SLP filed by the AIIMS. Taking note of the said fact, he was asked to proceed with the PTs and advance the arguments which did not appeal to him.

Humiliation

Instead, Counsel Mehmood Parcha who is the respondent in the present matter, started humiliating the other side’s counsel saying that the Supreme Court has shown them their place by the imposition of Rs 25,000 costs and hence they have no right to plead before the Tribunal.

Browbeating the Chairman | Personal attack on Chairman

He created an unfortunate situation in the Court and was browbeating the Chairman through his gestures and dramatics. Seeing that his provocation was not yielding the expected results, Advocate went on to make a personal attack on the Chairman.

Further, he went on to say that he has a lot to be said about the Chairman and the proceedings should be held in camera.

Scandalising the Chairman

He was informed that he can say in the open Court whatever he intends and if that is not done, it would amount to scandalizing the Chairman. His behaviour continued in the same manner and he did not reveal anything.

The Court was full of Advocates of different standings and repeated requests were made by them to pacify the respondent but nothing affected him.

Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act

It was also informed that the PTs are heard only the Chairman under Section 25 of the Act and if he i.e. the Advocate has any other suggestion, he could make it.

Yet, he continued his tirade.

In view of the above occurrence, Advocate was sent a notice requiring him to explain as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him.

Delhi High Court took up the matter of contempt and referring to the Supreme Court decision in T. Sudhakar Prasad v. Government of Andhra Pradesh (2001) 1 SCC 516, and held that the tribunal alone has jurisdiction to hear and decide the contempt case.

The Supreme Court affirmed order in the contempt matter by rejecting SLP (Crl) No. 7850 of 2019 after the draft charge as provided by the Contempt of Courts (CAT) Rules, 1992 were framed on 19-07-2019 on the basis of the remarks and statements made by the respondent herein, in his capacity as an Advocate.

The respondent filed MA. No. 2471/2019 with three prayers viz., (i) to decide certain MAs filed in PT. No. 288/2017; (ii) to decide whether the Chairman has jurisdiction to hear the contempt case; and (iii) to pass orders in respect of draft charge dated 19-07-2019. The MAs were disposed of on 02-08-2019.

Vikramjit Banerjee, Additional Solicitor General appeared to assist the Tribunal.

Decision

Tribunal expressed that the matter falls under Rule 13(b) of the Contempt of Courts (CAT) Rules, 1992.

Criminal Contempt

Solicitor General, Vikramjit Banerjee, stated that even where an Advocate becomes emotional, during the course of hearing, there is a method of setting the things right and persistent behaviour of challenging the very authority of the Tribunal or attempting to denigrate the Chairman would clearly amount to criminal contempt.

To the suggestion made by the learned Additional Solicitor General that the matter can be given a quietus in case the respondent expresses regrets, the latter stated that he will stand by whatever he said in the Tribunal and during the course of proceedings and that there is no question of expressing regrets.

It is not uncommon that a party or his counsel whose view point is not being accepted by the Court gets agitated. Howsoever strong such feeling may be, they have to stop at a particular stage, even while making effort to drive home, their point.

Upholding the dignity of the Institution

Attacking an adjudicator or attributing motives would cut at the very root of the system.

Once the dignity and status of the Institution are compromised, it loses its relevance. The concept of Contempt of Court is evolved inter alia to protect the dignity of the Institution.

Further, the bench stated that in all respects, result in the PTs was poised in favour of the applicant himself. However, what is discerned from the beginning is that his effort was to exhibit the IFS Officer’s personality than to get the relief in accordance with the law.

Tone & Tenor of pleas

The tone and tenor of the pleas are such that the target was certainly highly placed officers and authorities. In an application for transfer, all the above-stated was totally irrelevant.

The matter reached its pinnacle when in the Open Court counsel said that the proceedings be heard in the Chamber because he has to say something about the Chairman.

Though when he was asked to say whatever he wanted to in the Open Court, he went beating around the bush and did not spell out anything.

Hoodwinked the Tribunal

Counsel and his client have hoodwinked the Tribunal at every stage and in all possible manners.

Soon after the contempt notice was issued, a contempt case was filed against the Chairman, in the Uttarakhand High Court. A Single Judge bench entertaining it issued notice. The Supreme Court stayed it.

Tribunal noted that, the attempt in the present case made to add to the personality of the applicant and his counsel and for that purpose, Tribunal became an easy target.

Further, the bench stated that it may take decades of dedicated service for an officer to be recognised for his efficiency or honesty.

For a hardworking Advocate, it would take quite some time to get recognition or fame. Unfortunately, recourse is taken by some, to short cuts, without realising that the one who prefers short cuts is bound to be cut short.The only unfortunate part of it is that severe damage is done to the Institutions, in the meanwhile

In view of the above, the tribunal held the counsel i.e. respondent herein to be guilty of Contempt of Court under Section 14 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971.

However, there would have been every justification for the tribunal, to impose the sentence, proportionate to the acts of contempt held proved against the respondent.

However, by treating this as a first instance, he has been let off with a severe warning to the effect that if he repeats such acts in future in the Tribunal, the finding that he is guilty of Contempt of Court, in this case, shall be treated as one of the factors in the proceedings, if any, that may ensue. [Tribunal on its own motion v. Mehmood Pracha, Cr. CP No. 290 of 2019, decided on 23-09-2020]