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Madras High Court pulls up Tamil Nadu govt official for empty apology

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The Madras High Court on Thursday pulled up a Labour Commissioner for failing to comply with its earlier order and said government officials should not be allowed to undermine the constitutional jurisdiction of the High Court.

The Single Bench of Justice V. Parthiban made this observation while considering the affidavit filed by the Labour Commissioner, apologizing for his error in response to the action initiated by this Court vide proceedings dated 10.12.2020 against him for the act of committing contempt of this Court and directed the official to offer his explanation.

“This Court finds that the reasons set forth in the impugned order are directly questioning the authority of this Court by relying on a irrelevant decision of the Supreme Court of India, unrelated to the subject matter in issue which in the opinion of this Court, tantamounts to committing a blatant contempt of the constitutional jurisdiction of this Court. Therefore, the 1st respondent (The Commissioner of Labour, Chennai-6) is directed to appear before this Court to explain why suo motu contempt action should not be taken against him by this Court. He is also to explain why exemplary costs should not be imposed against him and why the Government should not be directed to initiate disciplinary action against him for the kind of impertinent observation made in the impugned order against this Institution,” the court order of December 12 said.

The bench on Thursday found that the affidavit filed by the Labour Commissioner contains a cliched, trite and commonplace expression of ‘apology’ accompanied by usual mundane deferential verbalisms not intended to convey true sense of regret for his crafty transgression. The apologies of this nature are usually not deeper than skin deep and have been always used as a well-protected shield from being taken to task in contempt proceedings.

In this case , the judge found the apology tendered by the Commissioner unsatisfactory since the larger issue is whether it is open to the officials of the Government to defy the subsisting interim order of the Constitution Court on the pretext of following the principle laid down by the Supreme Court in relating to a different set of facts and circumstances of the lis prompting the Apex Court to laying down general judicial directives which guidelines though indisputably, are the declared law of the land under Article 141 of the Constitution of India.

Moreover the official ought to have formulated his opinion on the basis of comprehensive understanding of the judgment, before acting against the subsisting stay of order passed by a Constitution Court.

The Court in light of such facts ordered

“the first respondent (Labour Commissioner) is afforded with another opportunity to put forth his explanation if any, other than what is already stated by him in the affidavit filed and on such explanation being received by this Court, further orders would be passed in the matter.”

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The Court further recalled a quote of British vintage, attributed to Lord Diplock, in contempt jurisdiction: “There is an element of public policy in punishing civil contempt since the administration of justice would be undermined if the order of any Court of law could be disregarded with impunity.”

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