Advocate punished for committing contempt in the face of the court

Published : March 28, 2019 12:35 IST


The Supreme Court bench of Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Vineet Saran on March 27 demonstrated its power to punish anyone for contempt in the face of the court by barring an advocate from practising before it for one year. However, it kept in abeyance another part of the punishment, of sentencing him to three months’ imprisonment, as long as he abides by his undertaking that he will not attempt to browbeat any judge of a High Court or the Supreme Court.

The advocate at the receiving end was Mathews J. Nedumpara, who was counsel for Justice C.S. Karnan, judge of the Calcutta High Court who was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for contempt of court. Nedumpara, while arguing on behalf of the National Lawyers Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms on March 5 submitted that judges of the Supreme Court were wholly unfit to designate persons as Senior Advocates as they only favoured their relatives. When he mentioned the name of Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman, father of Justice Rohinton Nariman, the bench cautioned him not to do so. When Nedumpara tried to justify his act, without explaining its relevance to the case, the bench took offence and held that he was doing so only to browbeat the court and embarrass Justice Rohinton Nariman.

Nedumpara also stated that there could be no contempt proceedings against a lawyer as the same would impinge on the independence of lawyers, which they ought to enjoy to the fullest. However, on March 12 the court held him guilty of contempt in the face of the court for making such statements which directly affected the administration of justice.

On March 27, the bench heard him on the quantum of sentence and declined his plea for adjournment of the case. His pleas for transfer of the case to another bench and recall of the March 12 judgment finding him guilty of contempt of court were also declined by the bench.  He then submitted an affidavit offering an unconditional apology and an undertaking that he would not browbeat any judge, in order to avoid undergoing the sentence.  By suspending the sentence on the condition that he complies with his undertaking, the court has imposed a Damocles’ sword over him forever, as the sentence would take effect the moment he violates his own undertaking.

The bench also initiated fresh contempt proceedings against him and three other lawyers for sending a letter to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and the President of India for making “scurrilous” allegations against Supreme Court judges. The bench, however, requested the Registry to place it before the CJI for constituting another bench to hear the matter. 

The sentencing order against Nedumpara has shocked the legal community, although he is known as a maverick lawyer, espousing unpopular causes.  The question of relatives of judges practising law in the Supreme Court is an issue he has raised earlier also. Although there is no bar on their practice, they generally avoid appearing before the judges to whom they are related. Nedumpara, however, has strong reservations about their practising in the entire court. Apart from Fali Nariman, Justice Uday Umesh Lalit’s father, U.R. Lalit, continues to practice in the Supreme Court after Justice Lalit’s elevation to the bench. 

Nedumpara’s counsel, Subhash Jha, tried to plead before the bench that his client mentioned Fali Nariman’s name only in a positive sense as many lawyers considered him a role model, but to no avail.

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