Article 215 of the Constitution provides that every High Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.
Every High Court shall be a court of record meaning thereby all the original record of the court will be preserved by the said court and it shall have all the powers of such a superior court of record including the power to punish for contempt of itself.
It has to be kept in view that as a superior court of record the high Court is entitled to preserve its original record in perpetuity. It is also now well settled that even apart from the aforesaid attribute of a superior court of record the High Court as such has two-fold powers.
Power of Contempt
Being a court of record the High Court,
(i) has power to determine the question about its own jurisdiction; and
(ii) has inherent power to punish for its contempt summarily.
The aforesaid twin incidents of a court of record are well established by a catena of decisions of Supreme Court.
A majority of the Constitution Bench of nine learned Judges of Supreme Court in the case of Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar and Others v. State of Maharashtra and Another, AIR (1967) SC 1 speaking through Gajendragadkar, CJ., has made the following pertinent observations in para 60 of the Report:
“There is yet another aspect of this matter to which it is necessary to refer, The High Court is a superior Court of Record and under Art. 215 shall all powers of such a Court of record including the power to punish contempt of itself. One distinguishing characteristic such superior Courts is that they are entitled to consider questions of their jurisdiction raised before them. This question fell to be considered by this Court in Special Reference No. 1 of 1964, 1965-1 SCR 413 at p. 499.
In that case, it was urged before this Court that in granting bail to Keshav Singh, the High Court had exceeded its jurisdiction and as such the order was a nullity. Rejecting this argument this Court observed that in the case of a superior Court of Record, it is for the Court to consider whether any matter falls within its jurisdiction or not. Unlike a Court of limited jurisdiction, the superior Court is entitled to determine for itself questions about its own jurisdiction.
That is why this Court did not accede to the proposition that in passing the order for interim bail, the High Court can be said to have exceeded its jurisdiction with the result that the order in question was null and void. In support of this view, this Court cited a passage from Halsburys Laws of England where it is observed that ‘prima facie, no matter is deemed to be beyond the jurisdiction of a superior Court unless it is expressly shown to be so, while nothing is within the jurisdiction of an inferior court unless it is expressly shown on the face of the proceedings that the particular matter is within the cognizance of the particular Court.’
If the decision of a superior Court on a question of its jurisdiction is erroneous, it can, of course, be corrected by appeal or revision as may be permissible under the law; but until the adjudication by a superior Court on such a point is set aside by adopting the appropriate course, it would not be open to be corrected by the exercise of the writ jurisdiction of this Court.”
Power of High Court
High Court as an institution has the seisin of the relevant record pertaining to all the cases tried before it. Record cannot be said to be in the custody of the author of the order giving rise to contempt proceedings. The cases may be pending or might have been disposed of Civil contempt might be alleged in connection with interim orders in pending matters and can also be alleged in connection with final orders in matters which are already disposed of.
The civil contempt is the contempt of the High Court as such and not the contempt of the author of the order being the judge concerned who might have passed the said order, whether interim or final. When civil contempt by way of breach of such an order is alleged it is the institution of the High Court as such which is said to have been contemptuously dealt with by the concerned contemnor.
For upholding the majesty of the institution as such, therefore, the High Court as a court of record can look into the grievance centring round the alleged breach of its order and it is this power to punish the contemnor that flows from Article 215 of the Constitution of India as well as from the relevant provisions of the Act.
But how this grievance of the aggrieved party is to be processed and examined pertains to the realm of distribution of work and jurisdiction of the High Court amongst different Division Benches and that exercise is permissible to the Chief Justice of the High Court as per the rules framed by the High Court on its administrative side.
That exercise has nothing to do with Article 215. Article 215 saves the inherent powers of the High Court as a court of record to suitably punish the contemnor who is alleged to have committed civil contempt of its order; Order might have been passed by any of the learned judges exercising the jurisdiction Of the High Court as per the work assigned to them under the Rules by the orders of the Chief justice, but once such an order is passed by a learned Single Judge or a Division Bench of two or more judges the order becomes the order of the Sigh Court.
High Court Of Judicature vs Raj Kishore Yadav, 1997