Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Litigation - the Indian Judicial System and something on 'contempt of Court'

In the complex society that we are living now, confrontations and disputes are common.  Instead of quarelling physically, it is proper to have that adjudicated legally.  Slowly the Nation is becoming litigant exhibited by the no. of cases that are getting filed in various Courts – despite the time delay  and the tedious process involved. The common saying is ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ – but not all get justice – in time.  Any person can bring a claim before the Court but only through the appropriate authority and when not contended with the decision, there is provision for appeal at a higher level.  The accused of a crime does have the right to present a defense before a Court.  For a common man, going to a Police Station or to a Court is still not the desired thing and has stigma attached.   The system is too constitutional and too procedural and in the process even pronounced offenders like Kasab could delay the inevitable and waste the Nation’s time and precious resources contesting the case. 

Our Nation has a  unitary judicial system made up of the Supreme Court of India at the national level and  21 High Courts at the State level. These courts have jurisdiction over a state, a union territory or a group of states and union territories. Below the High Courts are a hierarchy of subordinate courts such as the civil courts, family courts, criminal courts and various other district courts.

The Court is the seat of Justice – in someways a form of tribunal, a  Govt. institution with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law.   Judiciary collectively is the system of courts that interpret and apply the law.  The practical authority given to the court is known as its jurisdiction - the court's power to decide certain kinds of questions or petitions put to it.   Going by the famous commentaries on Law – Court is of minimum of three parties:  plaintiff, who complains of an injury done;  defendant, who is called upon to make satisfaction for it, and the judicial power, which is to examine the truth of the fact, to determine the law arising upon that fact, and, if any injury appears to have been done, to ascertain and by its officers and  apply a legal remedy.

Then there are Tribunals – as you would know the motor accident victims file their application before MACT (Motor Accident Claims Tribunal) which deal with matters related to compensation to victims or their kin arising out of motor accidents.  MACT courts are presided over by Judicial officers from the State Higher Judicial service and are under the supervision of High Courts.  There are Labour, Income tax and Excise  Tribunals and others set up exclusively for special purposes.  Strangely, though the Tribunals have all the trappings of a Court, they lack the power to punish for contempt. 

The salary that we receive is taxable under Law and this direct tax of Income tax is deducted at source.  Under the Income tax Act, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal is a final fact finding authority.  It can issue summons and  exercise all the powers vested in the Income tax authorities under section 131 of the income Tax  Act, hence any proceedings before the Income tax Appellate Tribunal shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of sections 193 and 228 for the purpose of section 196 of the Indian Penal code. The Tribunal is also deemed  to be a
Civil Court
. 

In a Court one is expected to display utmost respect and conduct oneself, especially before the Presiding officer / the Judge.  There is something known as ‘Contempt of Court’ which shall include resenting the questions asked by a judge, to be disrespectful to him, to question his authority to ask questions, to shout at him, to threaten him with transfer and impeachment, to use insulting language and abuse him, to dictate the order that he should pass, to create scenes in the Court, to address him by losing temper area all acts calculated to interfere with and obstruct the course of justice.

Under the Contempt Courts Act 1971 “Civil contempt”  means willful disobedience to any judgment, direction, orders writ, process of a Court”.   In one case, the Apex Court observed that  a lawyer is not expected to be subservient to Court while presenting the case but even when the case is against, he is not expected to be discourteous to Court or to fling hot words or epithets or use disrespectful, derogatory or threatening language or exhibit temper which has the effect of  overbearing the Court. Cases are won and lost in the Court daily. One or other side is bound to lose. The remedy of the losing lawyer or the litigant is to prefer an appeal against the decision and not to indulge in a running battle of words with the Court. That is the least that is expected of a lawyer. Silence on some occasions is also an argument. The lawyer is not entitled to indulge in unbecoming conduct either by showing his temper or using unbecoming language”.

Read in a legal forum that the powers of contempt of court rules are not conferred on ITAT  - but still it is incumbent on all to preserve the honour  and  dignity of the Institution while making representation before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and Court.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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