A division bench of the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday sentenced Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association (GHAA) president Yatin Oza to its custody till “rising of the court” and impo-sed a penalty of Rs 2,000 on him for criminal contempt of court.
Till “rising of the court” implies that he had to be inside the courtroom till the bench concludes and rises for the day. However, given that proceedings are conducted virtually, it meant that Oza had to remain logged in till matters of the court were concluded.
A division bench of Justices Sonia Gokani and Justice NV Anjaria held that Oza will have to undergo an imprisonment of two months if he fails to pay the penalty, following an extended hearing on the quantum of punishment on Wednesday.
After his advocates sought for a stay on the operation of the judgment, the court stayed its order for the statutory appeal period of 60 days so that Oza could file an appeal against the order under Section 19 of the Contempt of Courts Act.
Advocate Nisha Thakore, who appeared on behalf of the HC in the case, said, “The court said even at this stage it does not accept the unconditional apology that the respondent contemner had tendered in the past, and awarded him nominal sentence.”
Oza was unavailable for comment.
The Gujarat HC had taken suo motu cognisance of a press conference by Oza on June 5 where he had alleged favouritism by the court registry and its administration for “lawyers of billionaires (clients)” and had also alleged the HC administration of “corruption and malpractices”.
Initiating criminal contempt proceedings against Oza on June 9 for raising his “accusing fingers…against the High Court, High Court Administration and the Registry by irresponsible, sensational and intemperate delivery in an interview”, the court said he made “false and contemptuous allegations of corruption, malpractices against the administration of the High Court”.
Oza called the HC a “gambling den” to spread sensationalism, the court observed on June 9, while slapping him with the notice under Sections 2(c) and 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act for criminal contempt. A three-judge committee constituted to inquire into the allegations he made, gave the registry a clean chit and called Oza’s allegations “factually baseless”.
While this inquiry report was not part of the contempt proceedings’ record initially, amicus curiae and senior advocate Shalin Mehta, in a hearing in September, suggested that the same be added to the record after Oza’s advocates indicated that nowhere was it implied that Oza’s utterances at the contentious press conference was false or that they weren’t factually correct.
In July, the Full Court of Gujarat HC “unanimously resolved” to review and recall the “senior advocate” designation that was conferred on Oza in 1999. Oza’s civil writ, challenging this decision to divest him of his senior advocate designation, is pending before the Supreme Court.
The HC had repeatedly refused to accept Oza’s apology, citing that he has been a repeat offender over the years, when it comes to remarks against the court. An advocate practising at the HC had also moved an intervening application during the course of the contempt proceedings, seeking to be added as a party, with a view to bring on the court’s record, Oza’s history of making contemporaneous remarks against the institution.
The court had held Oza guilty of criminal contempt of the court on Tuesday. “…This court in exercise of powers conferred upon it under Article 215 of the Constitution of India and section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, holds the respondent contemner guilty of committing criminal contempt of this court within the meaning of section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971,” the HC said.
Oza’s plea at the SC seeking restoration of his senior advocate designation is due for hearing on October 13.
With PTI Inputs
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