Article 215 does not give power to High Court to punish for contempt of Supreme Court

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Holding that the power to punish for contempt vested in a Court of Record under Article 215 of the Constitution does not extend to punishing for the contempt of a superior court, the Court said that such a power has never been recognised as an attribute of a court of record nor has the same been specifically conferred upon the High Courts under Article 215 of the Constitution.

In the present case, a suo motu contempt proceedings was initiated by the High Court of Delhi in the light of a story that appeared in ‘Mid Day’ in its issue dated 2nd May, 2007 under the title “Injustice” that highlighted the alleged misuse of the official residence of Justice Sabharwal who demitted office as Chief Justice of India on 13th January, 2007 and another story stating that Justice Sabharwal had by reason of the orders passed by the bench benefitted the partnership business of his sons in real estate development in and around Delhi.

The Court noticed that no part of the publications referred to the High Court of Delhi or any other High Court for that matter. The publications did not refer to any Judge or any order of any Court subordinate to the High Court of Delhi. Hence, only Supreme Court had power to initiate contempt proceedings in the matter. It was held that if Supreme Court does not, despite the availability of the power vested in it, invoke the same to punish for its contempt, there is no question of a Court subordinate to the Supreme Court doing so.

It was further explained by the bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ and A.M. Khanwilkar, J that a priori if the power to punish under Article 215 is limited to the contempt of the High Court or courts subordinate to the High Court, there was no way the High Court could justify invoking that power to punish for the contempt of a superior court. That is particularly so when the superior court’s power to punish for its contempt has been in no uncertain terms recognised by Article 129 of the Constitution. The availability of the power under Article 129 and its plenitude is yet another reason why Article 215 could never have been intended to empower the High Courts to punish for the contempt of the Supreme Court. [Vitusah Oberoi v. Court of its own motion, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1, decided on 02.01.2017]

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