3 Jun 2010

Apology for contempt at the earliest: Supreme Court

In a recent decision the Supreme Court has declared that those seeking to apologize for their conducts in a proceeding against them for contempt of court have to come out with the apology at the earliest. Warning that belated apology would not serve the purpose, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the High Court in convicting the contemnor for contempt of lower court. 

The Supreme Court inter alia observed as under;

24. These words resonate with a strange poignancy even today. But there is a rider. Contempt power has to be exercised with utmost caution and in an appropriate case and that is why High Court has been entrusted with it. 
25. The offending acts of the appellant constitute contempt in the face of Court. When contempt takes place in the face of the Court, peoples’ faith in the administration of justice receives a severe jolt and precious judicial time is wasted. Therefore, the offending acts of the appellant certainly come within the ambit of interference with the due course of judicial proceeding and are a clear case of criminal contempt in the face of the Court.
26. The High Court, in the impugned judgment, therefore was correct in holding the appellant guilty and also in punishing him with the sentence it has imposed. It appears in the show cause notice, which was given by the appellant, initially he did not offer any apology. Rather the appellant tried to justify. The apology was offered in a subsequent show cause reply. Therefore, it is a belated apology.
27. It may be noted that under Explanation to Section 12(1) of the Act, the Court may reject an apology if the Court finds that it was not made bonafide. Under Section 12 it has been made very clear that the apology must be to the satisfaction of the Court. Therefore, it is not incumbent upon the Court to accept the apology as soon as it is offered. Before an apology can be accepted, the Court must find that it is bonafide and is to the satisfaction of the Court. However, Court cannot reject an apology just because it is qualified and conditional provided the Court finds it is bonafide. 
28.An apology in a contempt proceeding must be offered at the earliest possible opportunity. A belated apology hardly shows the ‘contrition which is the essence of the purging of a contempt’.
29. This Court in the case of Debabrata Bandopadhyay and others vs. The State of West Bengal and another reported in AIR 1969 SC 189, observed “an apology must be offered and that too clearly and at the earliest opportunity. A person who offers a belated apology runs the risk that it may not be accepted for such an apology hardly shows the contrition which is the essence of the purging of a contempt” (See para 7 page 193 of the report).
30. Apart from belated apology in many cases such apology is not accepted unless it is bonafide.
31. Even in a case of civil contempt this Court held in the case of Principal, Rajni Parekh Arts, K.B. Commerce and B.C.J. Science College, Khambhat and another vs. Mahendra Ambalal Shah reported in 1986 (2) SCC 560 that an apology offered at a late stage would encourage the litigants to flout the orders of Courts with impunity and accordingly the Court refused to accept the apology (See para 7 page 566 of the report).
32. Equally in the case of Secretary, Hailakandi Bar Association vs. State of Assam and another reported in (1996) 9 SCC 74, this Court in a case of criminal contempt refused to accept an apology which was belated. The Court held that such belated apology cannot be accepted because it has not been given in good faith (See para 24 page 82).
33. Even if it is not belated where apology is without real contrition and remorse and was merely tendered as a weapon of defence, the Court may refuse to accept it. (See Chandra Shashi vs. Anil Kumar Verma, (1995) 1 SCC 421). 

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