News Details

Lawyer punished for insult of supreme court decision

                          IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                      CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 2099 OF 2011
M.V. JAYARAJAN                                            ...... APPELLANT
HIGH COURT OF KERALA & ANR.                          ......RESPONDENTS
                               J U D G M E N T
1      This Appeal lays siege to the decision of the Division Bench  of  the High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam, which  found  the  Petitioner  guilty  of having committed criminal  contempt  punishable  under  Section  12  of  the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, and sentenced him to simple  imprisonment  for six months and to pay a fine of Rs.2000/-.
2     The facts leading to these events is that another  Division  Bench  of the High Court of Kerala had, by Orders dated 23.6.2010, banned the  holding of meetings on public roads and road margins in the State  with  the  object of ensuring  accident-free  and  uninterrupted  traffic  along  such  public roads.   Although not relevant for the present purposes, these  Orders  were confirmed subsequently; a Review Petition  was  dismissed  and  the  Special Leave Petition was also rejected by this Court.   Meanwhile,  on  26.6.2010, the Appellant delivered a speech in  a  public  meeting  at  Kannur,  Kerala allegedly convened in connection with a hartal organised to protest  against the hike in petroleum prices, which was widely reported  by  the  media.   A
translation of the speech as appearing in local City News reads as follows:-
      "When the Court verdicts go against the country and the people,  those
verdicts have only the value of grass.   From now  on,  what  worth  do  the
judges who pronounced the verdict have?    Today  disregarding  the  verdict
of those Judges and flouting their judgments, people throughout  the  length
and breadth of Kerala are organizing  public  meetings  and  rallies.    Why
should those Judges sit in glass houses and  pass  verdicts  any  more?   If
they have any self respect they should  resign  and  step  down  from  their
office.   The judiciary can attain greatness only when judgments  acceptable
to the country and obeyed  by  the  people  are  passed.    Today  even  the
judiciary is ashamed.   If the Executive exceeds its  limits  the  judiciary
is there to save.   Judges are to  interpret  the  laws  and  interpret  the
intention of the Legislature  which  had  made  the  laws  and  pass  orders
accordingly.   Unfortunately, what some idiots (fools)  occupying  our  seat
of justice say is nothing else.   Actually  speaking  they  themselves  make
laws and they  themselves  issue  orders.    This  is  not  conducive  to  a
democratic country.   This is what they should correct.   Today is  the  day
on which the verdict of two senior Judges of  Kerala  High  Court  has  been
given only the value of grass."
AsiaNet news reported the speech as follows:-
      "Today disregarding the verdict of those  Judges  and  flouting  their
judgments,  people  throughout  the  length  and  breadth  of   Kerala   are
organizing public meetings and rallies.  Why  should  those  Judges  sit  in
glass houses and pass verdicts any more?  If  they  have  any  self  respect
they should resign and step down  from  their  office.   The  judiciary  can
attain greatness only when judgments acceptable to the  country  and  obeyed
by the  people  are  passed.    Today  judiciary  is  the  refuge.   If  the
Legislature exceeds its limits there is the judiciary  which  comes  to  the
rescue.   But if the judiciary  exceeds  its  limits  who  will  tether  the
judiciary.   In  a  democracy  people  are  the  supreme.    Judges  are  to
interpret the laws and interpret the intention of the Legislature which  had
made the laws  and  pass  orders  accordingly.    Unfortunately,  what  some
idiots (fools) occupying our seat of justice say is nothing else."
IndiaVision News also carried this speech, which translated reads thus:-
      "When the Court verdicts go against the country and the people,  those
verdicts have only the value of grass.  Now on, what  worth  do  the  judges
who pronounced the verdict have?  Today disregarding the  verdict  of  those
Judges and flouting  their  judgments,  people  throughout  the  length  and
breadth of Kerala are organizing public meetings and rallies.    Why  should
those Judges sit in glass houses and pass verdicts any more?  If  they  have
any self respect they  should  resign  and  step  down  from  their  office.
Unfortunately, what some idiots (fools) occupying our seat  of  justice  say
is nothing else.   Actually speaking they  themselves  make  laws  and  they
themselves issue orders.   This is not conducive to  a  democratic  country.
This is what they should correct".
3     In his reply affidavit  filed  in  the  High  Court  in  the  Contempt
proceedings the Appellant has asseverated, inter alia, as follows:-
      "4.   It is true that I have made a speech  referring  to  Annexure  V judgment passed by this Honourable Court, prohibiting  holding  of  meetings on public roads and road margins.  It was not a  prepared  speech,  but  one delivered extempore.  The allegations that by  making  the  said  speech,  I have committed contempt of this  Honourable  Court,  by  using,  during  the course of the speech, certain words for which distorted meanings  have  been given in the petition, is absolutely incorrect and without  any  basis.   In this connection I may submit that I am a person who believes in the Rule  of
Law  and  the  supremacy  of  the  Constitution.   I  have  firm  faith and unquestionable loyalty to the  Constitution  and  the  institutions  created under it.  I have great respect and adoration  for  the  judiciary  and  the Honourable Judges.  I have always obeyed the verdicts  of  Courts  and  have never once defied its authority, or will  ever  I  do  it.   The  media  has reported distorted versions of the speech I made  referring  to  Annexure  V judgment and give wide publicity to it taking certain words used  by  me  in the speech out  of  context  and  providing  their  own  interpretation  and
meaning to those with ulterior motives and designs. I  have  criticized  the judgment as to its impracticability and difficulty  of  implementation.   It was in a Public Interest Litigation filed by a Transport  Operator,  seeking to prevent conduct of public meetings in the PWD road  in  front  of  Alwaye Railway Station  that  this  Honourable  court  has  rendered  the  judgment prohibiting the  holding  of  meeting  on  public  roads  and  road  margins throughout the State.  As a Social and Political Worker,  I  felt  that  the above judgment has been passed without considering  the  vital  factual  and legal aspects involved and that it may adversely affect the legal rights  of the Public including their  Fundamental  Right  of  freedom  of  speech  and expression and to assemble peacefully, guaranteed to them under  Article  19 of the Constitution.  In my speech I have used the words  commonly  used  by the villagers of North Malabar to convey my  message  to  the  audience  and they have also understood the same in the sense those  words  usually  carry with them.  There is no meaning to those words as given and  interpreted  by the  persons  who  have  preferred  the  contempt  petitions   before   this Honourable court seeking to initiate action against this deponent under  the Contempt of Courts Act.
      5.    Annexure V  judgment  of  this  Honourable  Court  was  rendered without considering the Public Interest or the contentions of  the  parties, affected thereby, including the Government.  The Court has gone  beyond  the issues  before  it  which  it  was  called  upon  to  decide.   The  general declaration issued, prohibiting the conduct of meetings on the road  margins was far exceeding the relief sought for in the writ petition.  It  has  been the practice followed in this country and in this State even from  the  pre- independence period to hold meetings on the road margins.   If  the  conduct
of such meetings is likely  to  create  any  law  and  order  situation,  or hindrance to the traffic, the police and  other  statutory  authorities  are clothed with power to control such meetings by resorting to  the  provisions under the Police Act and other similar laws.  The Executive  Magistrate  has power to control, restrict and prohibit the  conduct  of  such  meetings  by invoking the provisions of Sec. 144 of the Criminal Procedure  Code.   Thus, under law without infringing the  freedom  of  movement  of  the  public  at large, meetings could be convened on the road margins.
      6.    The criticism made by me against the judgment  was  with  honest intention and bonafide purpose and by way of expressing  of  my  opinion  in respect of the same to the public.  As a public worker, I thought it was  my bounden duty to make  such  criticism  when  the  judiciary  has  failed  to consider properly the issue involved while  rendering  the  above  judgment.
In so doing, I have never intended to demean  any  of  the  Judges  of  this Honourable  Court  or  the  authority  of  this   Honourable   Court.    The Fundamental Freedom  of  speech  and  expression  guarantied  (sic)  by  the Constitution is no less important than  the  freedom  of  judgment  to  move freely throughout the Territory of India. In  the  judgment  the  Honourable Court has only considered the freedom of persons  to  move  freely,  without such  anxious  consideration  to  the  freedom  of   speech   and
expression as also of the freedom to assemble  peacefully  guarantied  (sic) to the citizens by the Constitution with  equal  force.   For  that  reason, according to me, the Judgment was not in consonance with the  constitutional scheme.  I thought, I should bring this  infirmity  to  the  notice  of  the General Public.  My speech was only to highlight the above.
      7.    The words in question used by me  in  the  speech,  specifically referred to in the Contempt Petition  drawing it out of contest,  are  those prevalent in the area and  characteristic  of  the  assemblage  to  which  I spoke.  The speech was one made in protest against the hiking of  prices  of Essential Commodities and the audience was largely constituted of  the  poor sections  of  the  society,  the  common  man  of  the  area.    The   words particularly referred to in  the  contempt  petition  have  no  specific  or definite meaning and the sense it  carries  is  according  to  its  ordinary
usage.  That being so, those words taken out of context and given a  meaning that suits the  intention  of  the  petitioner  in  the  contempt  of  court petition, may not be made the  basis  for  initiating  contempt  proceedings against  me.   Since  the  above  judgment  was  practically  impossible  of implementation, there were public meetings held on the road side on the  day subsequent to the judgment also in several places in the State and that  was the reason for me to say  that  the  above  judgment  was  rejected  by  the public.  In doing  so,  I  have  never  challenged  the  authority  of  this
Honourable court or made  any  disparaging  remarks  demeaning  any  of  the Honourable Judges of this Honourable  Court.   Therefore,  considering  that the speech made by me was in a particular context and the language used  was one apposite to the issue and the  nature  of  the  audience,  there  is  no justification in picking up one or two words  used  in  the  speech  out  of context and raising the allegation of contempt of court against me based  on the incorrect and fanciful  meanings  attributed  to  those  words,  without considering the entire speech as a whole and the context  in  which  such  a speech was made.  In this connection  it  is  pertinent  to  note  that  the
petitioner has not produced the entire text of the speech made by  me  along with the Contempt Petition and it is a well  established  principle  of  law that in order to decide whether there is contempt  or  not  reading  of  the speech as a whole is necessary.  Since words torn out  of  context  from  it may be liable to be misunderstood.
Sumbhan is a word  used  in  Malayalam  without  any  specific  or  definite meaning.  As distinct from a "word" with a definite meaning in  a  language, there are "usuages"  in  every  language  which  have  different  shades  of meaning with varying connotations depending on the occasions in which it  is used as  also  the  regions,  sections  of  people,  circumstances,  etc  in relation to which it is used.  The word "Sumbhan", is such a  usuages  which is understood in different senses and connotations  in  different  parts  of the State and depending on the class of people who  uses  the  same.    Even inspite of such variations, it is submitted  that  the  word  "Sumbhan"  can never be understood as having the meaning attributed to it in  the  contempt petition namely "idiot" or "fool".
I hail from Cannanore District, in the Northern part of  the  Kerala  State. The impugned speech I was making  to  a  village  population  at  Kannur,  a considerable section of which cannot claim even to be  moderately  educated. "Sumbhan", is a word widely used by the people in the area to  refer  to  a person who had said or expressed something or acted in  any  particular  way without properly considering the various aspects of  a  matter  intensively, in all its aspects, or evaluating or taking into consideration,  the  likely consequences that may ensure thereby, in a hasty and casual manner, even  if he be a person highly reputed and accepted by  all  as  an  intelligent  and knowledgeable person.  In such a situation by referring  to  the  Honourable
Judges who have issued the judgments in question, to the people who were  at a loss to understand the logic and reason of  the  disapproval  of  a  right which for them was an integral part of their legal  right  which  they  have been enjoying all through the  past,  and  as  old  as  the  memory  of  the existing generations goes as "Sumbhan", I was only  conveying  to  them  and carrying home to  them  the  idea  that  those  Judges,  while  passing  the judgment have not properly considered the issue involved in all its  aspects nor have they comprehended the  attendant  circumstances  or  the  resultant
consequences thereof.
21    Having regard  to  the  above,  it  is  humbly  submitted  that,  this Honourable Court may be pleased to see that the charges levelled against  me in the above Contempt  of  Courts  Case  are  not  sustainable  in  law  and accordingly it is prayed that accepting this reply affidavit,  the  Contempt of court proceedings initiated against me may kindly be dropped."
The Appellant has also relied on Article 19(1) (b), 19(1) (a)  and  19(1)(d) and 19(3) of the Constitution.  He has deposed that he considered  his  duty "to speak to  the  people  evaluating  the  same  and  expressing  my  views regarding the impact and the  adverse  consequences  it  will  make  on  the social and political life of this  country  and  its  people,  as  also  the interference and the intrusions it will make on the  rights,  including  the fundamental rights guaranteed  to  the  citizens  of  this  country  by  the
Constitution .... I may submit in my speech I have not made  consciously  or otherwise any disparaging or disrespectful  statements  or  remarks  against any of the Hon'ble Judges of this Court."   As regards the use of  the  word 'sumbhan' or 'sumbhanmar', the Appellant has taken the stand that  the  word implied that "those Judges, while passing the  judgment  have  not  properly considered  the  issues  involved  in  all  its  aspects   nor   have   they comprehended the  attendant  circumstances  or  the  resultant  consequences thereof."
4     In the said affidavit, the Appellant  has  quoted  decisions  of  this Court in P.N. Duda v. P.Shiv Shanker 1988 (3) SCC 167; Re- S Mulgaokar  1978 (3) SCC 339 and R v. Metropolitan Police  Commissioner,  Ex-parte  Blackburn 1968 (2) All ER 319(CA).   We are  in  respectful  agreement  with  all  the observations made in these judgments.
5     On 15.11.2011, the  Appeal  was  taken  on  Board  and  admitted.    A direction was passed that the Appellant be released on  bail  but  that  the fine should be deposited within  one  week.    By  that  time,  as  per  the submissions made by the learned senior counsel appearing for  the  Appellant had suffered incarceration for one week.
6     Learned Senior Counsel for the Appellant has drawn  our  attention  to certain expressions used in the impugned Judgment, which  we  unhesitatingly and unequivocally find to be inappropriate when used  by  the  Judge  in  an Order or judgment.   Since we have expressed our  opinion  we  shall  adjure from even mentioning the explanation offered  on  behalf  of  the  Bench  as elucidation  in  the  backdrop  of  the   syntax.    The   sentence   passed comprehensively does all the speaking.  The endeavour of the learned  Senior Counsel is to persuade us that these words had been employed by  the  Judges because they were prejudiced against the Appellant, and that  prejudice  has resulted in imposing  the  impugned  sentence  in  its  total  and  complete severity. The said observations do not impact  upon  the  character  of  the words used by the Appellant in his public speech,  since  they  occur  after
the event.
7     Learned Senior Counsel has not addressed any arguments  or  give any extenuating explanation with regard to his  utterance  that  if  the  Judges have any self respect they should step down from their office.  We are  also unable to accept the meaning sought to  be  given  to  the  word  'sumbhan'/ 'sumbhanmar'  since  our  inquiries  reveal  that  they  are  pejorative  or insulting epithets/abuses akin to calling a person a fool  or  idiot.    The Appellant indubitably has exercised his freedom of speech insofar as he  has dissected the Judgment and argued that it was  contrary  to  law.    He  may also be excused in saying that Judges live in glass  houses,  and  that  the judgment's worth is less than grass, since this is his perception.   But  it is not open to the Appellant or any person to employ abusive and  pejorative language to the authors of a judgment and call upon them to resign and  step down from their office if  they  have  any  self  respect.    The  Appellant should have kept in mind the words of Lord Denning,  in  the  Judgment  upon which he has relied, that those that  criticise  a  judgment  must  remember that from the nature of  the  Judge's  office,  he  cannot  reply  to  their criticism.   In the case in hand, the Appellant had his remedy in  the  form of a Special Leave Petition to this Court, which  he  has  exercised  albeit without success.   The speech was made  within  a  couple  of  days  of  the passing of the ad interim injunction; no empirical evidence was referred  to by the Appellant, nor has any been  presented  thereafter,  to  support  his utterance that the Judgment/Order was being opposed by the public at  large.  Hence we see these parts of the  speech  as  intending  to  scandalize  and lower the dignity of  the  Court,  and  as  an  intentional  and  calculated obstruction in the administration of justice.  This requires to  be  roundly
repulsed and combated.
8     Learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Respondent State has  in  his brief submission highlighted the fact that at no  stage  has  the  Appellant tendered an apology.   We  have  given  an  opportunity  to  learned  Senior Counsel  for  the  Appellant  to  elucidate  this  position   but   he   has categorically stated that he has instructions that the  Appellant  does  not intend to apologise for any of his statements.
9     The Appellant is an advocate and also an ex-member of the  Legislative Assembly.   He is fully aware that  our  Constitution  is  premised  on  the separation of powers which enjoin the Executive,  the  Legislature  and  the Judiciary to perform their duties within the Constitutional framework.    He is fully aware that  while  he  has  the  right  of  freedom  of  speech  of expression, this postulates a temperate and reasoned  criticism  and  not  a vitriolic, slanderous or abusive one; this right of  free  speech  certainly does not extend to inciting the public directly or  insidiously  to  disobey
Court Orders.   The remedy is provided by way of an appeal to  the  Division
Bench, which was taken recourse to.   Having  perused  the  translations  of his speech, we are left in no manner of doubt that he intended to lower  the dignity of Court, to obstruct and impede its functioning and not  merely  to criticise its pronouncement which was not to his liking. His conduct  leaves him unquestionably guilty of the offence of Contempt of Courts, calling  for him to be punished for his  illegal  act.    He  has  shown  no  remorse  or contrition for  his  conduct.   Instead,  he  has  vainly  etymologised  the Sanskrit origin of 'sumbhan', fully aware of the fact  that  in  its  slang, especially to the rural and rustic persons he was addressing, it conveyed  a
strong  abuse.   Judges  expect,  nay  invite,  an  informed   and   genuine
discussion or criticism of judgments, but to incite a relatively  illiterate
audience against the Judiciary, is not to  be  ignored.   It  was,  not  the
Petitioner's province, as exercising his freedom of speech, to  advise  that
"if those judges have any self respect, they should resign  and  quit  their
10    The impugned  Judgment  has  correctly  and  condignly  committed  the
Appellant for committing contempt of Court and  ordered  his  incarceration.
Nevertheless, while affirming the impugned Judgment, we reduce the  sentence
of six months imprisonment to that of simple imprisonment for  a  period  of
four weeks.
11    The Appeal is  disposed  of  in  the  above  terms.   We  desist  from
imposing costs.
                                          [VIKRAMAJIT SEN]
                                          [ C. NAGAPPAN]
New Delhi;
January 30, 2015.