E.S. Venktaramaih*

A decision of the Bombay High Court [ Vishhwanath v E.S. Venktaramaih 1990 Cr LJ 2179 ], might become the new trendsetter - although there might be some justification for the view that the actual decision might have been rendered because the respondent was the retired Chief Justice of India.

In this case E.S. Venktaramaih, the former Chief Justice of India gave an interview to a noted journalist Kuldeep Nayar on the eve of his retirement on 17th December 1989 which was published in several newspapers. In course of the interview, the former Chief Justice is stated to have made the following statements -

“The judiciary in India has deteriorated in its standards because such Judges are appointed, as are willing to be “influenced” by lavish parties and whisky bottles”.

“In every High Court, Justice Venkataramaih said, there are at least 4 to 5 Judges who are practically out every evening, wining and dining either at a lawyer’s house or a foreign embassy. He estimates the number of such Judges around 90 and favours transferring them to other High Courts”.

“Chief Justice Venkataramaih reiterated that close relations of Judges be debarred from practicing in the same High Courts. He expressed himself strongly against sons, sons-in-law and brothers of Judges appearing in the Courts where the latter are on the Bench. Most relations of Judge are practicing in High Courts of Allahabad, Chandigarh, Delhi and Patna”.

“According to Chief Justice Venkataramaih practically in all the 22 High Courts in the country close relations of Judges are thriving. There are allegations that certain judgments have been influenced through them even though they have not been directly engaged as lawyers in such cases. It is hard to disregard the reports that every brother, son or son-in-law of a Judge, whatever his merit or lack of it as a lawyer, can be sure of earning an income of more than Rs. 10,000 a month”.

The Division Bench of the Bombay High Court held that the words complained of did not amount to contempt of court on the grounds that -

(a) The entire interview appeared to have been given with an idea to improve the judiciary;

(b) The Supreme Court had dismissed a writ petition [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 126 of 1990] filed on behalf of the State Legal Aid Committee, Jammu & Kashmir for an appropriate writ commanding the Union of India or any other appropriate authority to disclose the names of 90 Judges of the different High Courts in India as mentioned by the former Chief Justice of India.

Both these grounds are not convincing. As the law stands today maligning Judges (in the manner as reported) who are in service and discharging judicial functions is clear contempt of court on the application of the principles laid down by the Supreme Court in Brahma Prakash’s case [AIR 1954 SC 10]. It is more so when the maker of such reckless statements is the former Chief Justice of India. As far as the writ petition in the Supreme Court is concerned it is obvious that the Supreme Court was not concerned with any contempt proceedings and to draw the inference that “had the statement amounted to contempt, then Their Lordships of the Supreme Court would have taken suo motu action on the basis of the material that was placed before them” is a rare example of judicial naivete.

[ *source: Page No. 38-39 The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, By Samaraditya Pal (Advocate) Barrister, Inner Temple, Published by Law Research Institute, Second Reprint April’93. ]