Accidental disobedience is not contempt: SC

Accidental or unintentional disobedience of court orders does not amount to contempt, unless there is a wilful attempt to obstruct the course of justice, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Last Updated: Oct 15, 2010, 19:01 PM IST

New Delhi: Accidental or unintentional
disobedience of court orders does not amount to contempt,
unless there is a wilful attempt to obstruct the course of
justice, the Supreme Court has ruled.

"Accidental or unintentional disobedience is not
sufficient to justify one for holding guilty of contempt," a
Bench of Justices J M Panchal and Gyan Sudha Mishra held in
their judgement.
"It is further relevant to bear in mind the settled
law on the law of contempt that casual or accidental or
unintentional acts of disobedience under the circumstances
which negate any suggestion of contumacy, would amount to a
contempt in theory only and does not render the contemnor
liable to punishment," the court said.

The court gave the verdict while quashing the contempt
proceedings initiated against Dinesh Kumar Gupta, Deputy
Registrar (Judicial), Rajasthan High Court.

Gupta had moved the apex court questioning the
contempt proceedings initiated against him by the Single Judge
of the High Court on December 8,2006 for an alleged contempt
committed by his predecessor in 2001 vis-a-vis an order passed
by the judge on March 22, 2001.

The High Court had initiated contempt against Gupta on
the ground that the order for initiating inquiry against a
Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal(MACT)judge S.K. Bansal was
sought to be scuttled by the registry.
Upholding the appeal, Justice Sudha writing the
judgement said that at the relevant period of order passed by
the High Court, Gupta was not the Deputy Registrar (Judicial)
as he had assumed office more than four years later.

"Besides this, it would also not be correct to
overlook or ignore an important statutory ingredient of
contempt of a civil nature given out u/s 2(b)of the Contempt
of Courts Act 1971 that the disobedience to the order alleging
contempt has to satisfy the test that it is a wilful
disobedience to the order.

"Bearing this important factor in mind, it is relevant
to note that a proceeding for civil contempt would not lie if
the order alleged to have been disobeyed itself provides scope
for reasonable or rational interpretation of an order or
circumstance which is the factual position in the instant
matter," the apex court said.

The apex court said the Single Judge had inferred and
assumed erroneously that Gupta had the intention to obstruct
the administration of justice by being instrumental in
ensuring not implementation of the order.

"It would equally not be correct to infer that a party
although acting due to misapprehension of the correct legal
position and in good faith without any motive to defeat or
defy the order of the Court, should be viewed as a serious
ground so as to give rise to a contempt proceeding," the Bench
added.

PTI