State of Uttar Pradesh vs Association of Retired Supreme Court and High Court Judges at Allahabad 2024 INSC 4 – Contempt Of Court- Summoning Of Govt. Officials

Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 – The power of the High Courts to initiate contempt proceedings cannot be used to obstruct parties or their counsel from availing legal remedies- Courts must refrain from summoning officials as the first resort. While the actions and decisions of public officials are subject to judicial review, summoning officials frequently without just cause is not permissible. Exercising restraint, avoiding unwarranted remarks against public officials, and recognizing the functions of law officers contribute to a fair and balanced judicial system. Courts across the country must foster an environment of respect and professionalism, duly considering the constitutional or professional mandate of law officers, who represent the government and its officials before the courts. Constantly summoning officials of the government instead of relying on the law officers representing the government, runs contrary to the scheme envisaged by the Constitution – Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on Personal Appearance of Government Officials in Court Proceedings laid down -The appearance of government officials before courts must not be reduced to a routine measure in cases where the government is a party and can only be resorted to in limited circumstances. The use of the power to summon the presence of government officials must not be used as a tool to pressurize the government, particularly, under the threat of contempt. (Para 34, 38-44)

Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 – ‘Wilful disobedience’ of a judgement, decree, direction, order, writ, or process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court amounts to ‘civil contempt’. On the other hand, the threshold for ‘criminal contempt’ is higher and more stringent. It involves ‘scandalising’ or ‘lowering’ the authority of any court; prejudicing or interfering with judicial proceedings; or interfering with or obstructing the administration of justice. (Para 32)

Constitution of India, 1950 ; Article 229 – Article 229(2) pertains only to the service conditions of ‘officers and servants’ of the High Courts and does not include Judges of the High Court (both sitting and retired judges). The Chief Justice does not have the power, under Article 229, to make rules pertaining to the post-retiral benefits payable to former Chief Justices and judges of the High Court. (Para 25)

Constitution of India, 1950 ; Article 226 – The High Court, acting under Article 226 of the Constitution, cannot usurp the functions of the executive and compel the executive to exercise its rule-making power in the manner directed by it. Compelling the State Government to mandatorily notify the Rules by the next date of hearing, in the First Impugned Order, virtually amounted to the High Court issuing a writ of mandamus to notify the Rules proposed by the Chief Justice. Such directions by the High Court are impermissible and contrary to the separation of powers envisaged by the Constitution. The High Court cannot direct the State Government to enact rules on a particular subject, by a writ of mandamus or otherwise. (Para 29)

Practice and Procedure – Merely because reference is made to a wrong provision of law while exercising power, that by itself does not vitiate the exercise of power so long as the power of the authority can be traced to another source of law. (Para 26)

Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 ; Section 14 – Summary procedure, although, permitted under Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act cannot be invoked as a matter of routine and is reserved for only extraordinary circumstance – Referred to Leila David v. State of Maharashtra (2009) 10 SCC 337 (Para 36)

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