Observing that “something must have happened which perturbed” the Gujarat High Court judges to come to a unanimous decision in the contempt case against Gujarat High Court Advocates’ Association president Yatin Oza, the Supreme Court on Thursday said that lawyers also have a responsibility to the judiciary as an institution and advised against attributing motives.
The HC had initiated suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against Oza for raising “accusing fingers” against the court, the court administration and registry during a press conference which was live streamed. It later found him guilty and sentenced him to its custody till “rising of the court” and imposed a penalty of Rs 2,000 on him. It also stripped Oza of his senior advocate designation.
“Something must have happened, which perturbed the Court so much for the full court to come to a unanimous decision…This shows they were really pained,” said Justice S K Kaul, who along with Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, was hearing Oza’s petition against the HC decision.
Justice Kaul said judges “gain praise from one quarter and criticism from another” for the same judgement. “We accept it as a part of our job, so long as no motives are included”.
Stating that judges are “not infallible”, he said, “I always say that a judgment is an opinion so everybody has a right to say whether it is right or wrong.”
Justice Kaul said that lawyers and judges exist because of the institution and added that if it is destroyed, “you are crossing the boundary of maintaining the dignity of the institution to which both you and I are responsible”.
The court was responding to submissions by senior advocates A M Singhvi, Arvind Datar and C A Sundaram. Singhvi asked if the punishment was proportional to the offence. Agreeing to examine this, the Bench said it will have to see that such episodes are not repeated. Datar said Oza was not someone who was perpetually making such statements and that his comments were in the context of complainants against the registry.
“Having a complaint or a perception is not a problem. You may express it through words or letters…How you say it is what matters,” Justice Kaul said.
The bench said that such comments will not be acceptable even if it came from others and said Oza as the bar president has a responsibility. Oza said he has always respected the institution. Agreeing with the bench that he should have been more careful with his words, he said, “I have suffered enough. It is my humble prayer to put an end to this!”
The bench said it “understands your anxiety and wants to put an end to it” and said it will later hear the parties in detail.
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