The Gujarat High Court has remarked in the contempt case of Advocate Yatin Oza, “For the judiciary to perform its duties and functions effectively and true to the spirit with which it is sacredly entrusted, the dignity and authority of the Courts have to be respected and protected at all costs. The only weapon of protecting itself from the onslaught to the institution is the long hand of contempt of court left in the armory of the judicial repository which, when needed can reach any neck howsoever high or far away it may be.”
The Division Bench of Justice Sonia Gandhi and Justice NV Anjaria had announced its verdict on Tuesday, 6th October 2020 for the case where “scurrilous remarks” were made by the Advocate against the High Court and its Registry in a live conference on Facebook. The Bench ordered him to be in punishment till Wednesday, 7th October morning, and even granted a fine of Rs 2000.
The order was basically a reminder that “No one has become so big than the institution itself that in the name of taking up of the cause of advocates, he or she can go to any extent of ruining the image of the institution by his expression and utterances.”
In the present case, Oza had accused the Registry of observing “favoritism and nepotism” in the matters of circulation and listing of cases. This particular allegation posed by Oza against the Registry led to the registration of a suo moto case by the President of Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association.
Once the facts and circumstances of the cases were completely analyzed and evaluated, the Court was of the opinion that Oza had put some wild allegations on the Registry which was a slanderous attack on the Court and its operations and were creating unnecessary scandals. They were lowering the authority of the Court by accusing them with these remarks and could be said to interfere with the administration of justice or indeed tending to interfere with the course of justice.
As it can be known, Oza had commented that “The High Court is functioning for rich and influential people.” The Court offered an exception to the statement made by Oza as, “a clear and loud message being sent to the public at large from the Chair of the President, Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association that the common man, who otherwise reposes its faith in this system has misplaced its faith in the system which is not conducive and doesn’t entertain a man with less resources or with no means for their matters to be adjudicated.”
The Court inferred from the above statement that the High Court was partial and giving preference to the rich and influential. While Oza tried to clarify himself and stated that the remarks were against the Registry and not against the Court, the Bench stated that,
“Any matter filed before the High Court doesn’t get stopped at the Registry, which is only a facilitating arm of the judiciary. Matters are being permitted to be filed, examined, considered, scrutinized, processed, and placed before the Court. However, the issuance of notices inviting pleadings and evidence and adjudication of the matter after availing appropriate opportunities to the parties is the essential and predominant function of the judges and therefore, if it is being attacked and alleged that only Khambhata (Kasturi construction) or the builders have access to the justice, which forms not even 1% to 5% of the total population of the country.”
Registry is an internal part of Court
As Oza tried to stress on the fact that his grievance was against the functioning of the Registry and not against any of the judges or functioning of the Court, the Court emphasized on “Registry is an integral part of the Court and clearly held that unfailingly and indubitable that any attack on the Registry would mean as it was an attack on the Court.”
The Court further went on and stated that Registry and its officers were undoubtedly to be viewed as a part of the Court as per section 2(c)(i) defining the meaning of the Court.
The bench further remarked that “The administration of justice has the twin component, the Court on the judicial side and the Court on the administrative side. The Parliament has used the word scandalizing the Court and the definition doesn’t refer to either the administrative wing or the judicial wing. It doesn’t refer to the Judges, nor does it refer to the Registry, however, if we say that Court doesn’t include the Registry as rightly urged by learned amicus curiae would amount to strain reading of the provision. The Legislature has not used any specific terms as “Judges” or the “Judiciary” while framing the law.”
The Court added, “The system shall have to be looked at as a whole and there could not be any interpretation of such as nature, which would say that the Registry is not part of the Court. Any such parochial meaning would render the very powers futile, by allowing anyone and everyone to permit an integral part of the judiciary to be criticized and attacked on their personal scores against those individuals.”
The Bench also claimed that the statements even though were marked at the Registry also aimed at the judicial side of the Court, and mentioned that if a closer view of the statements was taken entirely, without any context and analysis, then it would be apparent to any layman that these utterances were not just directed towards the Registry but were indirectly pointing at the Judiciary too.
The Bench was of the opinion that whenever someone wants to attack the dispensation of justice, it is always meant for the judiciary and the Judges exclusively and not just Registry. One often takes the shield of something else to pose a scandalous attack on the judges via the Registry and thus it can be made very clear that every statement made by the Advocate was an attack against the Judges.
Defense of Truth
The Court stated that for considering the remarks as true for a valid defense there has to be ground or strong foundation. In the present case, Oza had contended that his utterances were solely to voice the grievances of the Junior lawyers and there was no personal intake in either of them.
However, the Court rejected this justification of the Court and noted that the five matters for which the voice was raised by Oza don’t show anything which seems to be true. The Court remarked, “Even the status report of these five matters goes to falsify the same… the respondent has failed to show any impression of truth in support of the allegations.”
It was further noted that even if the grievances and complaints of advocates are to be considered as true, “no one has whispered of corrupt practice much less serious malpractices or blaming the system to be meant for rich and resourceful only.”
The Court opined that “such serious and unpalatable utterances” made during the live conference were the product of Oza’s own brainchild.” The Court even made it clear that being a lawyer he should be better aware of the laws.
The Court even relied on the judgment of Sanjoy Narayan, Editor-in-Chief, Hindustan Times &Ors v. High Court of Allahabad, (2011) 13 SCC 155 of the Apex Court and remarked, “Freedom of speech is enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution of India as considering in the interest of the sovereignty, the integrity of India, the security of the State, public order, decency and morality and also the Contempt of Court act and defamation. The power must be carefully exercised. This also says that the dignity of the Courts, people’s faith in the administration of justice, must not be terminated on the basis of unverified reporting. One must be careful to verify the facts and do some research on the subject being reported before the publication is brought about.”
Good deeds do not give the license to attack Court
Another affidavit was filed on behalf of Oza where he highlighted his “stellar record” in terms of his work and standing up for the cause of Bar and for the interest of the institutions, sometimes even at the cost of personal gains. However, the Court was in no mood to favor the act committed by Oza and stated, “No brazen act can be permitted nor can his good deed can be used as a license to attack the Court, the gravity shall be examined.”
The Bench further noted that “In the present time, when the world is moving ahead and all possible attempts are made to introduce and imbibe Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as an integral part of the judicial dispensation system, what better chance than the present one for the legal fraternity also to come forth and strengthen the system which is the way forward. Even healthy criticism in any such endeavors also is welcome but instead of that, what is being found here is that without having the slightest regard for hundreds of employees of the Court working tirelessly day and night to ensure that the dispensation of justice doesn’t stop, without bothering for personal lives and the lives of their beloved at home in the pandemic, when all they get in return is the acidic criticism of serious nature of corruption, biased and partition attitude and that too, without any valid and justifiable base.”
Background of the case
On July 18, 2020, the High Court had revoked the senior designation given to Oza as per the Full Court decision of 1999 which designated him as a senior Advocate.
The main cause for such revocation was that a Facebook live conference was held by Oza in June, where he was accusing the High Court Registry of following corrupt practices and that they were taking undue favors from the high-profile industrialists and smugglers. The High Court of Gujarat felt the need to address this issue and took suo moto cognizance of Oza’s statements and started contempt of court proceeding.
The court went on to note, “as the Bar President has by his scandalous expressions and indiscriminate as well as baseless statements have attempted to cause serious damage to the prestige and majesty of the High Court and thereby of an independent judiciary as also attempted to lower the image of entire Administration and also created demoralizing effect amongst the administrative wing, this court in the exercise of powers conferred under Article 215 of the Constitution of India, prima facie finds him responsible for committing the criminal contempt of this Court within the meaning of Section 2(c) of the contempt of Court Act and take cognizance of such criminal contempt against him under Section 15 of the said Act.”
Thus, the High Court bench has directed Oza that on frivolous grounds and unverified facts he has targeted the High Court Registry and has even questioned the reliability of the High Court Administration. As Oza was not satisfied with the order passed by the High Court, he did approach the Supreme Court for the same but the Supreme Court has refused to entertain the plea of Oza and asked him to sort the matter in the High Court itself.
Oza also stated before the Apex Court that he was offering an “unconditional apology” for his remarks against the High Court. But the Supreme Court noted that as the leader of the Bar Association, Oza was held with greater responsibility and that he ought to be restrained in conveying the grievances of the lawyers. The Court didn’t express anything with regard to the merits of the matter and said that it was appropriate if the High Court dealt with this issue first taking his apology into account.
Thus, Oza rendered an unconditional apology to the High Court which was rejected by the Full Court on 26th August 2020. The High Court stated that his apology lacked genuineness and didn’t seem bonafide and he came up with the apology only when the contempt proceedings were initiated against him and after he was removed from the post of senior designation.
It has to be noted that Oza has challenged the High Court’s decision of stripping him down from the designation as Senior Advocate. The case was listed for hearing on 29th September 2020 but was delayed due to the pendency of the present proceedings.
This is not the first time, that Oza is seen voicing the grievances of the advocates as Oza being the GHCAA President had before also voiced a huge protest against the transfer of Justice Akil Kureshi from Gujarat High Court to Bombay High Court and termed the transfer as “unwarranted, uncalled for and unjust”
The Association under Oza’s leadership has also approached the Supreme Court for many issues and one of them was the Centre’s delay to act on the Supreme Court Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Justice Kureshi as the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court.