Megh HC | Editor and Publisher of Shillong Times guilty of contempt; to pay a fine of Rs 2 lakhs each or face ban 

Meghalaya High Court: A Bench of Mohammad Yaqoob Mir, CJ and S.R. Sen, J. came down heavily on the Editor and the Publisher of Shillong Times while holding them guilty for contempt of court. 

Report, dated 10-12-2018, captioned “When Judges judge for themselves” were published in Shillong Times, an English daily newspaper. A contempt case was registered against Patricia Mukhim, Editor and Shobha Chaudhuri, Publisher of Shillong Times. 

Backdrop

The Government of Meghalaya decided to withdraw the protocol services provided to retired Judges and their family members without consulting the High Court. The Chief Justice convened a meeting of Government Officers concerned wherein they were asked to immediately restore the protocol services to retired Judges and their family members. However, no action was taken for 2 months and consequently, a suo motu proceeding was endorsed to the Court to take up the matter. Notice was issued but since the Government remained silent, the Court passed the necessary order ordering the Government to comply with its directions within a month. This order is at heart of the controversy. The report published in Shillong Times referred to this order.    

The Contempt

The report on the basis of which the contempt proceedings were initiated stated, “Justice SR Sen, who is set to retire in March, wanted several facilities for the retired chief justice and judges, their spouses and children“. Furthermore, Patricia Mukhim took the help of social media where, according to the Court, she even went to extent of mocking judicial system of this country and passed certain remarks against the Amicus Curiae which, according to the Court, insulted members of the Bar. 

Decision

After perusing the affidavits filed by the contemnors, the Court found that they had no regrets at all and no respect for the Indian judicial system. Rather they were trying to challenge the system. In its order, the Court stated, “We would like to ask whether the contemnor, Patricia Mukhim wants to control the judiciary as per her desire and will? If it is so, she is very much wrong”. 

Commenting on media rights, the Court observed, “The sacred duty of the media is to publish correct news, so that the actual fact reaches the people. They are not at all entitled to write as they like and slur the image of an individual or institution. The contemnors here must remember that though, they have the right to publish news and sell their papers, but it is limited, subject to their duties. They are not supposed to file any report without understanding the background of the case or verifying the truth. Only true news should be published not the false report and if anybody violates, they are liable for defamation and contempt of Courts”. 

In reference to the remarks made in the report related to the retirement of Justice Sen, explaining the background of the case, the Court stated, “the question of a particular Judge on the verge of retirement taking steps for himself or his family does not arise. Hence, the report which appeared in the Shillong Times by the is totally false and without any basis. Patricia Mukhim must understand that we are Judges and our job is to deliver justice for the people in general and we have our own disciplinary methods”.

In one of her social media posts, Patricia Mukhim wrote: “Should the legal counsel for the accused be told by a judge to literally ‘Shut up’ and not speak? Then what’s the role of an advocate if he is shouted down?“. Notably, her posts made indirect reference to ‘a Judge‘. In regard to this to this, Justice Sen stated in the order: “if at all, any such remarks have been made to any litigants or officer by any Judge, the person concerned should have reported to Hon’ble the Chief Justice and I myself with full faith and conscience, I say that I never asked any litigants or officer or lawyer about their personal life, rather it is a known fact to every member in the bar that I speak very less and hear the matters in accordance with law. So, if it indicates to Justice S.R. Sen, it is totally false and without any basis and we Judges maintain the dignity of the Court at all costs”.  

The Court clarified, “we don’t believe in judicial activism, we go according to the law, neither had we intimidated anyone by any notice”. K. Paul, Advocate appearing for the contemnors tried to put in different views on technicalities which according to the Court was totally misleading and was against the principle of professional ethics. 

The Court was of the view that the present matter came within the purview of Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (cognizance of criminal contempt in other cases). After the conclusion of the arguments, contemnors filed two affidavits in the Registry without permission tendering an unconditional apology. However, the same appeared to the Court to be a calculated strategy to avoid punishment. It was stated, “The contemnors being responsible persons should not have indulged in the acts falling within the purview of derogation to the administration of justice”. Exercising power under Article 215, the Court sentenced the contemnors to sit in the corner of the Courtroom till rising of the Court. A fine of Rs 2 lakhs each was also imposed which was to be deposited with the Registry within a week. Further, “in default of payment, both the contemnors will have to undergo 6(six) months simple imprisonment and the paper so-called ‘Shillong Times’ will automatically come to an end (banned)”.

With such observations and directions, the notice of contempt was disposed of. [High Court of Meghalaya v. Patricia Mukhim, 2019 SCC OnLine Megh 41, dated 08-03-2019]

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