Saturday 12 July 2014

Contempt of Court

This is a story told to me by my uncle, Brahma Nath Katju, who later became Chief Justice of Allahabad.
The story is about an incident in the early 1950s in the Allahabad High Court. My uncle was then a very junior lawyer, who had just started practice in the High Court. Junior lawyers often have no work, so my uncle used to sit in some Court to hear senior lawyers argue.

One day a contempt of court case came up before a bench of the Chief Justice, Justice Mootham, who was an Englishman ( and whom I met in England at his residence in 1994 when he was 90 years old), and Justice P.N. Sapru. For the state of U.P. the Advocate General, Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal Mishra appeared. My uncle, was sitting in court at that time, and was thus an eye witness of what transpired.

The case arose out of a postcard sent by a 75 year villager of Meerut District to the District Judge of Meerut. In this letter, the villager wrote that the Indian judiciary was still behaving like the colonial British judiciary although India had become independent in 1947.

The District Judge had forwarded the letter to the High Court, and the High Court had issued summons to the villager. When the villager did not respond to the summons, a bailable warrant was issued to him, and when the villager did not even respond to that, a non- bailable warrant was issued, and the police went and arrested him and brought him to Allahabad.

The Chief Justice observed that the notice may be discharged as it was a trivial matter. The statement of the villager was only mentioned in a postcard, and had not been published in any newspaper. Contempt jurisdiction is discretionary jurisdiction, and hence the High Court was not bound to take action even if contempt had been committed.

However, Justice Sapru was not to be so lightly put off, and was not inclined to take the matter so lightly, and ultimately he asked the villager, who was present in court, why he did not appear when summons or bailable warrant had been issued. The villager replied that he was a poor man, and hence he thought that if non-bailable warrant was issued he would be brought to Allahabad at state expense, and would not have to pay for his train journey from Meerut. The Judges then smiled and said he could go. At this he said how could he go ? He had no money for the train journey.

The Judges then took out their wallets and each of them took out Rs.15, and the Advocate General Pt. Kanhaiyya Lal Mishra also took out Rs.15 from his wallet, and the 45 rupees so contributed was given to the villager for his return journey to Meerut.

This story should be related to all judges who readily issue contempt notices. Lene ka dena pad ja sakta hai !


  1. Wonderful, anecdote. In these days when courts get provoked at the slightest frown of the commoner and the legislature gets offended pretty quick. What is wrong if one says that the hangover of the Raj still exists?

  2. Esteemed Sir,

    I read your story in a single uninterrupted flow and the lesson or reminder I gained was equally instant, which is, "Humanity prevails over every act of Ego!"

    What a wonderfully simple and elegant moment I must say.

    For, in my beliefs, as "Gods are to Living beings" are "Hon'ble Judges to Societies".
    With such exclusive, absolute power that the Judges are bestowed if and when they displayed such humility and understanding of the ways of life (Difficult, unrelenting, illogical) and to pardon the simple troubled villager and more to show such big hearts in sharing his burden to return back home was absolutely humbling.

    I wish this could be the ways of our Nation in this time and era too.
    I most earnestly thank you for this.