There is a lot that happens behind the scenes. This is not the case of every institution, but even the Judiciary. Many have spoken about it,but none have narrated it as well as Justice S S Sodhi, former Chief Justice of the Allahbad High Court in his book, “The Other Side of Justice.”
Justice S.S. Sodhi, recalls an extraordinary case of a clash between the bar and the bench, and how the bar was made to behave. Excerpts:
The Allahabad High Court, the largest in India, has a history of many famous legal battles. It has often been described as “A court held to ransom by a crowd of unruly lawyers”. An occurrence of significant consequence for the Allahabad High Court was the action initiated by the Supreme Court for contempt of court against V.C. Misra, the chairman of the Bar Council of India. This episode, as it unfolded, vividly portrayed the arrogance of V.C. Misra and his propensity for browbeating the judiciary. It all began on 9 March 1994, with the incident that took place before the Division Bench presided over by Justice Anshuman Singh, with his companion judge being Justice S. K. Keshote. The incident, as reported by Justice Keshote in his letter to the acting chief justice occurred when ‘I put a question to Shri Misra under what provision this order has been passed. On putting of this question he started to shout and said that no question could have been put to him. He will get me transferred or see that impeachment motion is brought against me in Parliament. He further said that he had turned out many judges. He created a good [sic] scene in court. He asked me to follow the practice of this court. In sum and substance it is a matter where except to abuse me of mother and sister he insulted me like anything.’ Perhaps the most unfortunate part was that Justice Anshuman Singh sat through this incident and made no attempt to protect his junior colleague. The next morning, a visibly disturbed Justice Keshote came over and narrated to me the shabby manner in which V. C. Misra had behaved. He was also upset with Justice Anshuman Singh for just sitting quiet. On my advice, he sent a report of the incident to the acting chief justice who, in due course, forwarded it to the chief justice of India. The chief justice of India, in turn, put up the matter on the judicial side and referred it to a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justice Kuldip Singh, Justice J.S. Verma and Justice P.B. Sawant. On 15 April 1994, a notice was issued to V.C. Misra, calling upon him to show cause why proceedings for contempt of court should be not initiated against him. The proceedings for such action initiated by the Supreme Court against V.C. Misra were based upon the letter of Justice Keshote. Inevitably, the fact that the chairman of the Bar Council of India, who was also the president of the High Court Bar Association, was facing a charge of contempt of court and, that too before the highest court in the land, evoked more-than-usual interest in Allahabad and elsewhere.Defiance marked V.C. Misra’s reply. On 10 May 1994, he came forth with a counter version and sought either discharge of the notice issued to him or an inquiry into the incident referred to by Justice Keshote. He went on to say that but for his deep commitment to judicial processes as evidenced by his status as senior advocate and his association with various law organizations, he would have adopted the usual expedient of submitting an unconditional apology. However, he pointed out that, in this case, the facts and circumstances were such that they had induced him to seek the verdict of the court as to whether he had committed contempt or whether it could be the judge who had committed contempt of his own court. That was not all. Through a separate petition, filed on the same day, V.C. Misra also specifically asked that proceedings be drawn against Justice Keshote for committing contempt of his own court. It was claimed there that it was Justice Keshote who had lost his temper and threatened Misra, which was punishable under Section 16 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. According to Misra: ‘The entire Bar at Allahabad knows that I was unjustly roughed up by the judge and am being punished for taking a fearless and non-servile stand`85. Any punishment meted out to the outspoken lawyer will completely emasculate the freedom of the profession and make the Bar a subservient tail-wagging appendage to the judicial branch.’On 18 May 1994, during the pendency of these contempt proceedings before the Supreme Court, an extraordinary general meeting of the High Court Bar Association was held with none else than V.C. Misra himself in the chair. Its brief was to consider the matter of the notice for contempt of court issued to him by the Supreme Court! At this meeting a resolution was passed saying the contents of Justice Keshote’s letter were ‘not correct’. This meeting gave rise to a controversy among some members of the Bar Association. A paper signed by 147 members was received from the office of Farman Ahmed Naqvi raising the question whether or not any agenda for such a meeting of the Bar Association had been issued. To deal with this matter, a meeting of the Governing Council of the Bar Association was held on 20 May 1994, again with V.C. Misra chairing it. At this meeting, a letter purported to have been signed by 800 members was put up to affirm that the agenda for the meeting of 18 May 1994 had indeed been circulated. At this meeting a further resolution was passed that the High Court Bar Association should file a contempt petition against Justice Keshote. Leading lawyers of Allahabad strongly criticized this move and sought to dissociate themselves from it. It was perhaps as a result of this step that no petition for contempt of court was ever filed against Justice Keshote by the Allahabad High Court Bar Association.It was on 15 July 1994 that the Supreme Court, after hearing V.C. Misra and his counsel and after perusing the affidavit and counter affidavit filed by him, came to the conclusion that it was a fit case where proceedings for criminal contempt of court be initiated against him. Further, as per V.C. Misra’s prayer, his application for the initiation of proceedings against Justice Keshote for contempt of his own court was
dismissed as withdrawn.Meanwhile, V.C. Misra had the Bar Council of India publish a booklet entitled Without Comments. Its Preface observed: ‘In the following pages [are] documents relating to two contempt proceedings drawn against Sri V.C. Misra, chairman, Bar Council of India, and president, High Court Bar Association, Allahabad, in the year 1994 for actions alleged to have been committed by him. Since the matter is sub judice before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, the Bar Council of India is producing only the copies of authentic documents. In view of the pendency of the matter in Court, we refrain from commenting either way on the merits of the cases brought against him and leave it to the best judgment of the persons in whose hands this compilation may fall.’ This booklet contained a copy of Justice Keshote’s letter of 10 March 1994 to the acting chief justice, besides the orders of the Supreme Court in the contempt matter and the affidavits and petitions filed by Misra as also minutes of meetings of the High Court Bar Association supporting Misra. Later, another booklet was published, further Without Comment.After all these events had taken place, on 7 October 1994, V. C. Misra submitted before the Supreme Court a written apology that he termed ‘unconditional’:A situation like the one which has given rise to the present proceedings, and which in an ideal condition should never have arisen, subjects me to deep anguish and remorse and a feeling of moral guilt. The feeling has been compounded by the fact of my modest association with the profession as senior advocate for some time and also being the president of the High Court Bar Association for multiple terms (from which I have resigned a week or 10 days back) and also being the chairman of the Bar Council of India for the third five-year term. The latter two being elective posts convey with its holding an element of trust by my professional fraternity with expectations of setting up an example of an ideal advocate, which includes generating an intra-professional culture between the Bar and the Bench`85. It also calls for cultivation of a professional attitude amongst the lawyers to learn to be good and sporting losers.Guilty [upon] realizing my failure at approximating these standards`85I submit my humble and unconditional apologies for the happenings in the court of Justice S. K. Keshote at Allahabad High Court on 9 March 1994, and submit myself to the Hon. Court’s sweet will.The apology tendered by V. C. Misra was not accepted by the Supreme Court. The reasons for this rejection as given in the judgment in ‘In re.: Vinay Chandra Misra’ are as follows:We find that the apology is not a free and frank admission of the misdemeanour he indulged in the incident in question. Nor is there a sincere regret for the disrespect he showed to the learned judge and the court and for the harm he had done to the judiciary. On the other hand the apology is couched in sophisticated and garbled language exhibiting more an attempt to justify his conduct by reference to the circumstances in which he had indulged in it and to exonerate [himself] from the offence by pleading that the “condition” [that] had developed was not an ideal one and were it ideal the “situation” should not have arisen. It is a clever and disguised attempt to refurbish his image and get out of a tight situation by not only exhibiting the least sincere remorse for his conduct but [also] by trying to blame the so-called circumstances which led to it`85Secondly from the very inception his attitude has been defiant and belligerent. In his affidavit and application, not only has he not shown any respect for the learned judge but [also] has made counter allegations against him and has asked for initiation of contemptproceedings against him.He has also chosen to insinuate that the learned judge, by not taking contempt action on the spot and instead writing the letter to the acting chief justice of the High Court, had adopted a devious way and that he had come to Delhi to meet “meaningful” people. These allegations may themselves amount to contempt of court.Lastly, to accept any apology for a conduct of this kind and to condone it would [be] tantamount to a failure on the part of this court to uphold the majesty of the law, the dignity of the court and to maintain the confidence of the people in the judiciary. The court will be failing in its duty to protect the administration of justice from attempts to denigrate and lower the authority of the judicial officers entrusted with the sacred task of delivering justice. A failure on the part of this court to punish the offender on an occasion such as this would thus be a failure to perform one of its essential duties solemnly entrusted to it by the Constitution and the people.Turning to the two versions of the incident, one as given by Justice Keshote and the other by V.C. Misra, the Supreme Court came to the following conclusion: ‘There is every reason to believe that notwithstanding his denials, and disclaimers, the contemner had undoubtedly tried to browbeat, threaten, insult and show disrespect personally to the learned judge.’ The court then went on to hold V.C. Misra ‘guilty of the offence of criminal contempt of court for having interfered with and obstructed the course of justice by trying to threaten, overawe and overbear the court by using insulting, disrespectful and threatening language’. V.C. Misra was accordingly sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of six weeks. This sentence was, however, ordered to remain suspended for a period of four years but with the rider that it could be activated in case he was convicted for any other offence of contempt of court within this period. He was also suspended from practicing as an advocate for a period of three years with the consequence that all elective and nominated offices/posts held by him in his capacity as an advocate would stand vacated by him.This verdict stunned the legal fraternity. It was not just a lawyer but the chairman of the Bar Council of India who stood convicted and sentenced for contempt of court. Not surprisingly, the impact of this verdict led to strikes by lawyers. Lawyers in Delhi marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest. In Allahabad, the High Court Bar Association did give a call for a strike, but it evoked little response. Significantly, there was no call for a strike by the Bar Council of India. As for V.C. Misra, as a result of his reaction to the judgment, he earned himself another notice for contempt of court from the Supreme Court, this time from the bench comprising Chief Justice A. M. Ahmadi, Justice S. P. Bharucha and Justice K. S. Paripoornam. This notice came after a press conference where he described the earlier verdict as ‘motivated, mala fide and incompetent’. He next went on to demand a public apology from the three judges who had convicted him and sought their impeachment.
Courtesy: The Tribune