The Madras High Court on Friday found two lawyers guilty of contempt of court for having pursued litigation calculated to dislodge a Registrar (Vigilance) of the Judicature on the strength of a patently false affidavit that had accused her of not being qualified to hold the post. (High Court of Madras v. B Sathish Kumar and ors).
A Bench of Justices PN Prakash and RN Manjula had preoccupied the matter on a reference created by a Bench headed by then Chief Justice.
The First Bench had earlier obligatory a fine of 5 lakh among the lawyers while initiating contempt of court proceedings. In the order passed last Friday, Justices Prakash and Manjula opined that they were fully satisfied that the two lawyers had acted in tandem and hatched a mischievous plot to manufacture the vexatious litigation on the strength of patently false affidavit which was calculated to not only dislodge the then Registrar (Vigilance) from her post but also bring down the prestige of the High Court.
The court in its order also said that in addition, the duo caused the petition to be largely circulated in the press, even prior to the admission of the matter before this Court, recklessly hurling the stone at the institution, thereby bringing the administration of justice into disrepute.
The Court also expressed its displeasure over the petition being widely publicized even before it reached the Court. The Bench further expressed that being "officers of the Court", the two lawyers had an additional responsibility and duty to refrain from doing anything that would cause damage to the institution, because, it is this institution that gives them an identity in the society.
The controversy came out of a writ petition filed in 2020 accusing the then High Court Registrar of Vigilance, Poornima of not having passed her 12 standards. A Bench of Cheif Justice Sahi and Justice Sethilkumar found that all the impositions were false and the court dismissed the writ petition. Instead, the lawyer who moved the plea, advocate B Sathish Kumar, found himself the recipient of contempt of court proceedings in addition to the Rs 5 lakh costs imposed by the First Bench. The counsel on record in this writ petition were two others, advocate Ashok Kumar and U Vasudevan.
In the course of the proceedings, Sathish Kumar alleged that he was being made a victim and that he had moved the writ petition on the urging of his senior, advocate Vasudevan. It was Kumar's case that he was only a pawn in the hands of his senior, the Court recorded. Kumar also filed an affidavit expressing his unconditional apologies and appealing for mercy from the Court. Vasudevan, on the other hand, denied any involvement in filing the writ petition. The Court, however, remained unconvinced. In this regard, the Bench also noted that Vasudevan had paid the costs imposed earlier on Kumar by the First Bench.
To the surprise of the Court, however, the district judge so named was found to have already passed away twenty days before he was named for the first time in the course of contempt hearings. The court observed that the duo found them on a very sticky wicket. They appear to have conveniently palmed off the grease of their litigation excesses on a dead man, who, obviously, could offer no counter to their allegations from the after-life. The Court concluded that both advocates Sathish Kumar and Vasudevan were guilty of contempt of Court on charges earlier framed under Section 2(c)(iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971and Section 2(c)(i) read with Section 12(1). Kumar was directed to pay a Rs 2,000 fine for each charge (Rs 6,000. for three charges) defaulting to which he would have to undergo a week's simple imprisonment for each charge. On the payment of the fine, Kumar was also permitted to resume his High Court practice. The sentence was granted after considering that Kumar hailed from a poor family, in view of his having mellowed down and tendered a genuine, unconditional apology and also given that he had already been slapped with Rs 5 lakh as costs.
In Vasudevan's case, the Court pointed out that he had remained "defiant" all along and contended that he has had no hand in the matter, although the Court found that both he and Sathish Kumar had clearly acted in tandem "to recklessly engineer false litigation with the sole object of damaging the judiciary. While Vasudevan had also apologized in a February 2021 affidavit, in a subsequent affidavit filed in June after charges were framed, the Court found that there was "absolutely no whisper of an apology. In addition to a fine of Rs 2,000 for each charge (Rs 6,000 for three charges), Vasudevan was also sentenced to undergo a month of simple imprisonment for each of the three charges framed against him. Further, Vasudevan was barred from practicing before the High Court for a period of one year. On these terms, the contempt case was disposed of.