New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled that a person cannot be convicted for criminal contempt in a casual manner and is entitled to benefit of doubt unless there is a clear cut case of obstructing justice.
A bench of justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan said the alleged contemnor cannot be convicted on mere surmises and conjectures as there has to be sufficient evidence to establish the guilt of a person.
"The alleged contemnor is entitled to the protection of all safeguards, rights which are provided in the criminal jurisprudence, including the benefit of doubt.
"There must be a clear-cut case of obstruction of administration of justice by a party intentionally to bring the matter within the ambit of the said provision. The case should not rest only on surmises and conjectures," Justice Chauhan, writing the judgement, observed.
The apex court passed the judgement while quashing the four months simple imprisonment imposed by the Delhi High Court on Kanwar Singh Saini on the surmise that he had breached an undertaking given by him of not dispossessing one Mohd Yousuf from a disputed property.
Upholding Saini`s plea, the apex court said, "No interim order had ever been passed and the undertaking given by the appellant/defendant not to dispossess the said plaintiff culminated into a final decree and thus, if any further action was required, it could be taken only in execution proceedings.
"There has been manifest injustice in the case and the doctrine of ex debito justitiae (as a matter of right) has to be applied in order to redress the grievances of the appellant/defendant. Judgement and order impugned cannot be
sustained under any circumstance," the bench said.
The apex court said it failed to understand as under what circumstances, the high court did not even consider it appropriate to enforce the judgement, order or decree if it had been disobeyed by the appellant.
"The instant case is a glaring example of non-application of mind and non-observance of procedure prescribed by law for dealing with such matters.
"Entire proceedings have been conducted in most casual and cavalier manner," the bench added.