Monday, October 2, 2023

Delhi High Court sentences lawyer to six months of imprisonment for contempt of Court

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The Delhi High Court has sentenced a lawyer to six months of simple imprisonment for being guilty of contempt of court.

The lawyer had not complied with the judicial orders that directed him to pay the use and occupation charges to the landlord in respect of a property situated in Kingsway Camp area.

Justice Manmeet Pritam Arora also imposed a fine of Rs. 2,000 on the lawyer keeping in mind that it is a fit case where any leniency shown by the court will be misunderstood as weakness.

The Court said that the fact that Respondent is a law graduate enrolled with the State Bar Council and presumably well versed with law, showed scant regard for the legal process.

The court was hearing a contempt petition moved by owners of the property in question which was used by the lawyer for commercial purposes by letting it out as paying guest accommodation.

A coordinate bench vide order dated February 15, 2021, dismissed the lawyer’s plea of financial inability. The contempt petition was then filed on February 25, 2021, as the lawyer failed to make payment of the use and occupation charges while continuing to occupy the property.

Although the possession of the property was handed over by the lawyer during the pendency of proceedings on December 15, 2021, he failed to comply with the order passed by the coordinate bench despite multiple opportunities.

The lawyer also breached an undertaking given to the court on March 25, 2021, wherein he said that he will pay the outstanding use and occupation charges. Accordingly, the court found him guilty of having committed contempt of court on January 24, 2022.

Not being satisfied by the unconditional apology tendered by the lawyer, the court observed that the apology is “merely a lip-service” and a “stratagem to avoid the consequences” of the wilful default and non-compliance committed by him.

“Infact, it appears to this Court that the Respondent using his knowledge of law intended to abuse the procedural safeguards by causing prejudice to the Petitioner in denying him the possession of the subject property as well as the use and occupation charges,” the court said.

It noted that the lawyer instituted a civil suit seeking a relief of permanent injunction against the owners from interfering in his possession, took resort to legal process to injunct the landlord from interfering in his enjoyment of the property and used the process to deny payment of admitted rent of Rs. 1,60,000 per month to the landlord.

“This Court is of the opinion that if the Respondent is not met with the consequences of the wilful default and breach on the orders and undertakings given to this Court, it will embolden him to similarly abuse the process of law in future and victimize fellow citizens on the belief that the sanctity of orders passed by the Court need not be protected and honored,” the court said.

While passing the order on sentence, the court directed the Registrar General to take necessary steps to have the lawyer taken into custody and for sending him to Central Jail, Tihar under appropriate warrant of commitment for undergoing the sentence.

“…. a copy of this order be also sent to the Chairman and Secretary of Bar Council of Delhi. The Bar Council of Delhi is directed to send a report on the actions initiated against the Respondent in furtherance to the order dated 15.02.2021 within a period of four weeks,” it ordered.

The court had earlier warned the lawyer that having enrolled as an Advocate, he cannot be carrying out any other business. “Such observation has to be carried out to its logical end. Therefore, let a reference be sent to the Bar Council of Delhi alongwith the statement of the respondent no.1 recorded on 17.12.2020 for taking necessary action as may be deemed appropriate,” Justice Navin Chawla had said in the order dated 15.02.2021.

In the sentencing order today, Justice Arora directed that the lawyer shall be informed by the Superintendent of Central Jail that he has the right to prefer an appeal against the conviction and order on sentence.

“It is further directed that if in future, the Respondent herein similarly fails to comply with orders of the Court in any legal proceedings where he is a party, the record of the present contempt petition shall be read in evidence and the subsequent conduct will be considered as an aggravated contempt of the Court within the meaning of Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971,” the court said.

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