Frederick Sargent (1837–1899), The Tichborne Trial (1873-1899)

The question came for consideration before Supreme Court in the case of ‘Pravin C. Shah v. K.A.Mohd Ali (2001)’ that, When an advocate was punished for contempt of court can he appear thereafter as a counsel in the courts, unless he purges himself of such contempt? If he cannot, then what is the way he can purge himself of such contempt?

Appearance of contemnor

While answering the question, the court referred the case of ‘Supreme Court bar association v. Union of India (1998 (4) SCC 409)’, which saysin it paragraph 57 of the decision:

“In a given case, an advocate found guilty of committing contempt of court may also be guilty of committing professional misconduct, depending upon the gravity or nature of his contumacious conduct, but the two jurisdictions are separate and distinct and exercisable by different forums by following separate and distinct procedures.

The power to punish an advocate by suspending his license or by removal of his name from the roll of the State Bar Council for proven professional misconduct vests exclusively in the statutory authorities created under the Advocates Act, 1961, while the jurisdiction to punish him for committing contempt of court vests exclusively in the courts.”

Thereafter in paragraph 80, the Constitution Bench said the following:

“In a given case it may be possible, for this Court or the High Court, to prevent the contemnor advocate to appear before it till he purges himself of the contempt but that is much different from suspending or revoking his license or debarring him to practise as an advocate.

In a case of contemptuous, contumacious, unbecoming or blameworthy conduct of an Advocate-on- Record, this Court possesses jurisdiction, under the Supreme Court Rules itself, to withdraw his privilege to practice as an Advocate-on-Record because that privilege is conferred by this Court and the power to grant the privilege includes the power to revoke or suspend it. The withdrawal of that privilege, however, does not amount to suspending or revoking his license to practice as an advocate in other courts or tribunals.”

After referring the case, the Supreme Court said in the present case-

“The right of the advocate to practise envelopes a lot of acts to be performed by him in discharge of his professional duties. Apart from appearing in the courts he can be consulted by his clients, he can give his legal opinion whenever sought for, he can draft instruments, pleadings, affidavits or any other documents, he can participate in any conference involving legal discussions etc.

Conduct in court is a matter concerning the court and hence the Bar Council cannot claim that what should happen inside the court could also be regulated by Bar Council in exercise of its disciplinary powers. The right to practise, no doubt, is the genus of which the right to appear and conduct cases in the court may be a specie. But the right to appear and conduct cases in the court is a matter on which the court must have the major supervisory power. Hence the court cannot be divested of the control or supervision of the court merely because it may involve the right of an advocate.”

The court further said that,

“Courts of law are structured in such a design as to evoke respect and reverence to the majesty of law and justice. The machinery for dispensation of justice according to law is operated by the court. Proceedings inside the courts are always expected to be held in a dignified and orderly manner.

The very sight of an advocate, who was found guilty of contempt of court on the previous hour, standing in the court and arguing a case or cross-examining a witness on the same day, unaffected by the contemptuous behaviour he hurled at the court, would erode the dignity of the court and even corrode the majesty of it besides impairing the confidence of the public in the efficacy of the institution of the courts.

This necessitates vesting of power with the High Court to formulate rules for regulating the proceedings inside the court including the conduct of advocates during such proceedings. That power should not be confused with the right to practise law. While the Bar Council can exercise control over the latter, the High Court should be in control of the former”

How he can purge Contempt?

Purging is a process by which an undesirable element is expelled either from one’s own self or from a society. It is a cleansing process. Purge is a word which acquired implications first in theological connotations. In the case of a sin, purging of such sin is made through the expression of sincere remorse coupled with doing the penance required. In the case of a guilt, purging means to get himself cleared of the guilt.

The concept of purgatory was evolved from the word purge, which is a state of suffering after this life in which those souls, who depart this life with their deadly sins, are purified and render fit to enter into heaven where nothing defiled enters. (vide Words and Phrases, Permanent Edn., Vol.35A, page 307).

In Black’s Law Dictionary the word purge is given the following meaning: To cleanse; to clear or exonerate from some charge or imputation of guilt, or from a contempt. It is preposterous to suggest that if the convicted person undergoes punishment or if he tenders the fine amount imposed on him the purge would be completed.

On purging the court said that,

“The first thing to be done in that direction when a contemnor is found guilty of a criminal contempt is to implant or infuse in his own mind real remorse about his conduct which the court found to have amounted to contempt of court. Next step is to seek pardon from the court concerned for what he did on the ground that he really and genuinely repented and that he has resolved not to commit any such act in future. It is not enough that he tenders an apology.

The apology tendered should impress the court to be genuine and sincere. If the court, on being impressed of his genuineness, accepts the apology then it could be said that the contemnor has purged himself of the guilt.”

The court referred some decisions where the court talked about purging process-

This Court has held in M.Y. Shareef and anr. vs. Honble Judges of the Nagpur High Court and ors. (AIR 1955 SC 19) that an apology is not a weapon of defence to purge the guilty of their offence, nor is it intended to operate as a universal panacea, but it is intended to be evidence of real contriteness.

Ahmadi, J (as the learned Chief Justice then was) in M.B. Sanghi, Advocate vs. High Court of Punjab and Haryana and ors. {1991(3) SCC 600}, while considering an apology tendered by an advocate in a contempt proceeding has stated thus: And here is a member of the profession who has repeated his performance presumably because he was let off lightly on the first occasion. Soft justice is not the answer not that the High Court has been harsh with him what I mean is he cannot be let off on an apology which is far from sincere.

His apology was hollow, there was no remorse no regret it was only a device to escape the rigour of the law. What he said in his affidavit was that he had not uttered the words attributed to him by the learned Judge; in other words the learned judge was lying adding insult to injury and yet if the court finds him guilty (he contested the matter tooth and nail) his unqualified apology may be accepted. This is no apology, it is merely a device to escape.

A four Judge Bench of this Court in Mulk Raj vs. State of Punjab {1972 (3) SCC 839} made the following observations which would throw considerable light on the question before us:

‘Apology is an act of contrition. Unless apology is offered at the earliest opportunity and in good grace apology is aborn of penitence. If apology is offered at a time when the contemnor finds that the court is going to impose punishment it ceases to be an apology and it becomes an act of a cringing coward.

The High Court was right in not taking any notice of the appellants expression of apology without any further word. The High Court correctly said that acceptance of apology in the case would amount to allow the offender to go away with impunity after having committed gross contempt. Thus a mere statement made by a contemnor before court that he apologises is hardly enough to amount to purging himself of the contempt.

The court must be satisfied of the genuineness of the apology. If the court is so satisfied and on its basis accepts the apology as genuine the court has to make an order holding that the contemnor has purged himself of the contempt.”

Final conclusion

The court while concluding the judgment said that,

“The respondent-advocate continued to appear in all the courts where he was earlier appearing even after he was convicted by the High Court for criminal contempt without being objected by any court. This is obviously on account of the fact that presiding officers of the court were not informed of what happened.

We, therefore, direct that in future, whenever an advocate is convicted by the High Court for contempt of court, the Registrar of that High Court shall intimate the fact to all the courts within the jurisdiction of that High Court so that presiding officers of all courts would get the information that the particular advocate is under the spell of the interdict contained in Rule 11 of the Rules until he purges himself of the contempt.

It is still open to the respondent-advocate to purge himself of the contempt in the manner indicated above. But until that process is completed respondent-advocate cannot act or plead in any court.”


Pravin C Shah v. K.A. Mohd. Ali, (2001)