The case of ‘Delhi judicial Service v. State of Gujrat (1991)’ is very important case related to judiciary’s freedom and protection of judicial officers. It is also an important case on contempt of court.  

In this case, a judicial officer from Gujrat state of India, was humiliated by police. He was handcuffed by ropes and assaulted by the police. This created outrage throughout the country and a number of petitions were filed under article 32, to the supreme court.

Facts of the case

  • On 25th September, 1989, a horrendous incident took place in the town of Nadiad, District Kheda in the State of Gujarat, which exhibited the berserk behaviour of Police undermining the dignity and independence of judiciary.
  • S.R. Sharma, the Police Inspector was the main actor in the entire incident and who had planned the entire episode with a view to humiliate the CJM in the public eye. S.R. Sharma, Inspector of Police, posted at the Police Station, Nadiad, arrested, assaulted and handcuffed N.L. Patel, Chief Judicial Magistrate, Nadiad and tied him with a thick rope like an animal and made a public exhibition of it by sending him in the same condition to the Hospital for medical examination on an alleged charge of having consumed liquor in breach of the prohibition law enforced in the State of Gujarat.

The Inspector S.R. Sharma got the Chief Judicial Magistrate photographed in handcuffs with rope tied around his body alongwith the constables which were published in the newspapers all over the country. This led to tremors in the Bench and the Bar throughout the whole country.

  • The supreme court in its judgment on this case wrote that,

“The incident undermined the dignity of courts in the country, Judicial Officers, Judges and Magistrates all over the country were in a state of shock, they felt insecure and humiliated and it appeared that instead of Rule of Law there was Police Raj in Gujarat.”

  • A number of Bar Associations passed Resolutions and went on strike. The Delhi Judicial Service Association, the All India Judges Association, Bar Council of Uttar Pradesh, Judicial Service of Gujarat and many others approached the Apex Court by means of telegrams and petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution of India for Saving the dignity and honour of the judiciary. On 29.9.1989, Supreme Court took cognizance of the matter by issuing notices to the State of Gujarat and other Police Officers. The Court appealed to the Members of the Bar and Judiciary to resume work to avoid inconvenience to the litigant public.
  • Subsequently, a number of petitions were filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India for taking action against the Police Officers and also for quashing the criminal proceedings initiated by the Police against N.L. Patel, Chief Judicial Magistrate. A number of Bar Associations, Bar Councils and individuals appeared as interveners condemning the action of the police and urging the Court for taking action against the Police Officers.
  • N.L. Patel, CJM, Nadiad also filed an application, with a prayer to quash the two FIRs lodged against him, to direct the trial of the complaint filed by him as State case and to award compensation.

The background of the story

  • N.L. Patel was posted as Chief Judicial Magistrate at Nadiad in October, 1988. He soon found that the local Police was not cooperating with the courts in effecting service of summons, warrants and notices on accused persons, as a result of which the trials of cases were delayed. He made complaint against the local Police to the District Superintendent of Police and forwarded a copy of the same to the Director General of Police but nothing concrete happened.
  • On account of these complaints S.R. Sharma, Police Inspector Nadiad was annoyed with the Chief Judicial Magistrate, he withdrew constables posted in the CJM Court. In April, 1989 Patel filed two complaints with the Police against Sharma and other Police Officials, Nadiad for delaying the process of the court. On 25 July, 1989 Patel directed the Police to register a criminal case against 14 persons who had caused obstruction in judicial proceedings but subsequently since they tendered unqualified apology, the CJM directed the Police Inspector to drop the cases against-those persons. Sharma reacted strongly to Patel’s direction and he made complaint against the CJM to the Registrar of the High Court through District Superintendent of Police.
  • These facts show that there was hostility between the Police of Nadiad and the CJM. On 25.9. 1989, S.R. Sharma met Patel, CJM in his Chambers to discuss the case of one Jitu Sport where the Police had failed to submit charge-sheet within 90 days. During discussion Sharma invited the CJM to visit the Police Station to see the papers and further his visit would mollify the sentiments of the Police Officials. It was alleged that at 8.35 p.m. Sharma sent a Police Jeep at Patel’s residence, and on that vehicle Patel went to the Police Station.
  • What actual happened at the Police Station is a matter of serious dispute between the parties. According to the CJM, he was handcuffed and tied with rope, and he received injuries at the Police Station, he was assaulted and forced to consume liquor after he was tied to the chair on which he was sitting, Police Inspector Sharma, Sub-Inspector Sadia, Head Constable Valjibhai Kalabhai and Constable Pratap Singh took active part in this episode. They actively participated in the assault on Patel and in forcing liquor in his mouth. They acted in collusion with Sharma to humiliate and teach a lesson to Patel.
  • It was further alleged that Patel was sent to Hospital for Medical examination under handcuffs where he was made to sit on a bench in the varanda exposing him to the public gaze.
  • Sharma, Police Inspector and other Police Officers disputed these allegations. According to Sharma, Patel entered his chamber at the Police Station at 8.45 p.m. on 25.9. 1989 in a drunken state, shouting and abusing him, he caught hold of Sharma and slapped him, since he was violent he was arrested, handcuffed and sent to Hospital for medical examination. Patel himself wanted to be photographed while he was handcuffed and tied with ropes, a photographer was arranged to take his photograph which was published in the newspapers.
  • Since, there was serious dispute between the parties with regard to the entire incident, the Court appointed Justice R.M. Sahai senior puisne Judge of the Allahabad High Court to inquire into the incident and to submit report to the Court. Justice Sahai was appointed to hold the inquiry on behalf of supreme Court. Justice Sahai visited Nadiad and held sittings there. The Commissioner/Judge invited affidavits/statements, and examined witnesses including S.R. Sharma the Police Inspector, D.K. Dhagal, D.S.P. and other Police Officers, lawyers, N.L. Patel, CJM, and Doctors and other witnesses. He submitted a detailed Report dated 28.11.1989 to supreme Court on 1.12.1989.
  • The Commissioner considered the evidence as well as the circumstances in support of his findings that Patel had been invited by Sharma to visit the Police Station and he had sent a Police jeep on which Patel went to the Police Station. This fact was supported by independent witnesses as discussed by the Commissioner. If Patel had gone on the invitation of Sharma on Police jeep and not in the manner as alleged by Sharma, Patel could not be drunk and there appeared no reason as to why he would have assaulted Sharma as alleged by the Police.
  • The court noted that, Patel had not committed any offence nor he was violent and yet he was handcuffed and tied up with rope without there being any justification for the same. There were seven police personnel present at the Police Station and most of them were fully armed while Patel was empty handed, there was absolutely no chance of Patel escaping from the custody or making any attempt to commit suicide or attacking the Police Officers and yet he was handcuffed and tied up with a thick rope like an animal with a view to humiliate and teach him a lesson.
  • On examination at the Civil Hospital Patel’s body was found to have a number of injuries. The injury on the left eye was very clear which appeared to have been caused by external force. His body had bruises and abrasions which could be caused by fists and blows. While in the casualty ward of the Civil Hospital, Patel requested the Doctors to contact the District Judge and inform him about the incident.
  • At the initial stage, one case was registered against Patel by the Police under the Bombay Prohibition Act. Two Advocates Kantawala and Brahmbhatt met Sharma at 11.30 p.m. for securing Patel’s release on bail, as offences under the Prohibition Act were bailable. The lawyers requested Sharma to allow them to meet the CJM who was in the police lock-up but Sharma did not allow them to do so. With a view to frustrate lawyers’ attempt to get Patel released on bail. Sharma registered another case against Patel under Sections 332 and 506 of Indian Penal Code as offence under Section 332 is non-bailable.

Analysis of the Court

The court’s analysis in this case, was as follows-

  • The subordinate courts administer justice at the grass root level, their protection is necessary to preserve the confidence of people in the efficacy of Courts and to ensure unsullied flow of justice at its base level.
  • Since the Supreme Court has power of judicial superintendence and control over all the courts and Tribunals functioning in the entire territory of the country, it has a corresponding duty to protect and safeguard the interest of inferior courts to ensure the flow of the stream of justice in the courts without any interference or attack from any quarter. The subordinate and inferior courts do not have adequate power under the law to protect themselves, therefore, it is necessary that supreme Court should protect them.
  • Ordinarily, the High Court would protect the subordinate courts from any onslaught on their independence, but in exceptional cases, extraordinary situation may prevail affecting the administration of public justice or where the entire judiciary is affected, Supreme Court may directly take cognizance of contempt of subordinate courts.
  • Though there is no provision like section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code conferring express power on the Supreme Court to quash or set aside any criminal proceeding pending before a criminal court to prevent abuse of process of the court, but the Court has power to quash any such proceeding in exercise of its plenary and residuary powers under Article 136 of the Constitution, if on the admitted facts no change is made out against the accused or if the proceedings are initiated on concocted facts, or if the proceedings are initiated for oblique purposes.
  • The inherent power of the Supreme Court under Article 142 coupled with the plenary and residuary powers under Articles 32 and 136 embraces power to quash criminal proceedings pending before any court to do complete justice in the matter before this Court. If the court is satisfied that the proceedings in a criminal case are being utilised for oblique purposes or if the same are continued on manufactured and false evidence or if no case is made out on the admitted facts, it would be in the ends of justice to set aside or quash the criminal proceeding. It is idle to suggest that in such a situation the Court should be a help- less spectator.
  • The Court’s power under Article 142(1) to do “complete justice” is entirely of different level and of a different quality. Any prohibition or restriction contained in ordinary laws cannot act as a limitation on the constitutional power of the Court. Once the Court has seisin of a cause or matter before it has power to issue any order or direction to do “complete justice” in the matter. This constitutional power of the Apex Court cannot be limited or restricted by provisions contained in statutory law.

What would be the need of “complete justice” in a cause or matter would depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case and while exercising that power the Court would take into consideration the express provisions of a substantive statute. Once the Court has taken seisin of a case, cause or matter, it has power to pass any order or issue direction as may be necessary to do complete jus- tice in the matter.

  • Article 129 provides that the Supreme 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. The expression used in Article 129 is not restrictive instead it is extensive in nature.
  • The Supreme Court and the High Court both exercise concurrent jurisdiction under the constitutional scheme in matters relating to fundamental rights under Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution, therefore Supreme Court’s jurisdiction and power to take action for contempt of subordinate courts would not be inconsistent to any constitutional scheme.

There may be occasions then attack on Judges and Magistrate of subordinate courts may have wide repercussions throughout the country, in that situation it may not be possible for a High Court to contain the same, as a result of which the administration of justice in the country may be paralysed, in that situation the Apex Court must intervene to ensure smooth functioning of courts.

  • It is true that courts constituted under a law enacted by the Parliament or the State Legislature have limited jurisdiction and they cannot assume jurisdiction in a matter, not expressly as- signed to them, but that is not so in the case of a superior court of record constituted by the Constitution. Such a court does not have a limited jurisdiction instead it has power to determine its own jurisdiction.

No matter is beyond the jurisdiction of a superior court of record unless it is expressly shown to be so, under the provisions of the Constitution. In the absence of any express provision in the Constitution the Apex court being a court of record has jurisdiction in every matter and if there be any doubt, the Court has power to determine its jurisdiction. If such determination is made by High Court, the same would be subject to appeal to this Court, but if the jurisdiction is determined by this Court it would be final.

  • Supreme Court being the Apex Court and a superior court of record has power to determine its jurisdiction under Article 129 of the Constitution, and as discussed earlier it has jurisdiction to initiate or entertain proceedings for contempt of subordinate courts. This view does not run counter to any provision of the Constitution.
  • The Chief Judicial Magistrate is head of the Magistracy in the District. Under the provisions of Chapter XII of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, he exercises control and supervision over the investigating officer. He is an immediate officer on the spot at the lower rung of the administration of justice of the country to ensure that the Police which is the law enforcing machinery acts according to law m investigation of crimes without indulging into excesses and causing harassment to citizens.

The main objective of Police is to apprehend offenders, to investigate crimes and to prosecute them before the courts and also to prevent commission of crime and above all to ensure law and order to protect the citizen’s life and property. The law enjoins the Police to be scrupulously fair to the offender and the Magistracy is to ensure fair investigation and fair trial to an offender. The purpose and object of Magistracy and Police are complementary to each other.

  • The public have a vital stake in effective and orderly administration of justice. The Court has the duty of protecting the interest of the community in the due administration of justice and, so, it is entrusted with the power to commit for contempt of court, not to protect the dignity of the Court against insult or injury, but, to protect and vindicate the right of the public so that the administration of justice is not perverted, prejudiced, obstructed or interfered with.
  • By and large the majority of the people get their disputes adjudicated in subordinate courts, it is, in the general interest of the community that the authority of subordinate courts is protected. If the CJM is led into trap by unscrupulous Police Officers and if he is assaulted, handcuffed and roped, the public is bound to lose faith in courts, which would be destructive of basic structure of an ordered society. If this is permitted Rule of Law shall be supplanted by Police Raj.
  • Viewed in this perspective the incident is not a case of physical assault on an individual judicial officer, instead it is an onslaught on the institution of the judiciary itself. The incident is a clear interference with the administration of justice, lowering its judicial authority. Its effect was not confined to one District or State, it had a tendency to affect the entire judiciary in the country. The incident highlights a dangerous trend that if the Police is annoyed with the orders of a presiding officer of a court, he would be arrested on flimsy manufactured charges, to humiliate him publicly as has been done in the instant case. The conduct of Police Officers in assaulting and humiliate the CJM brought the authority and administration of justice into disrespect, affecting the public confidence in the institution of justice
  • In order to avoid any such situation in future, the court considered it necessary to lay down guidelines which should be followed in the case of arrest and detention of a Judicial Officer. No person whatever his rank, or designation may be, is, above law and he must face the penal consequences of infraction of criminal law.

Guidelines for the arrest of a Judicial Officer

A Magistrate, Judge or any other Judicial Officer is liable to criminal prosecution for an offence like any other citizen but in view of the paramount necessity of preserving the independence of judiciary and at the same time ensuring that infractions of law are properly investigated, the following guidelines should be followed.

(A) If a judicial officer is to be arrested for some offence, it should be done under intimation to the District Judge or the High Court as the case may be.

(B) If facts and circumstances necessitate the immediate arrest of a judicial officer of the subordinate judiciary, a technical or formal arrest may be effected.

(C) The facts of such arrest should be immediately communicated to the District and Sessions Judge of the concerned District and the Chief Justice of the High Court.

(D) The Judicial Officer so arrested shall not be taken to a police station, without the prior order or directions of the District & Sessions Judge of the concerned District, if available.

(E) Immediate facilities shall be provided to the Judicial Officer to communication with his family members, legal advisers and Judicial Officers, including the District & Sessions Judge.

(F) No statement of a Judicial Officer who is under arrest be recorded nor any panchnama be drawn up nor any medical tests be conducted except in the presence of the Legal Adviser of the Officer concerned or another Judicial Office of equal or higher rank, it’ available.

(G) There should be no handcuffing of a Judicial Officer. If, however, violent resistance to arrest is offered or there is imminent need to effect physical arrest in order to avert danger to life and limb, the person resisting arrest may be over-powered and’ handcuffed. In such case, immediate report shall be made to the District & Sessions Judge concerned and also to the Chief Justice of the High Court.

But the burden would be on the Police to establish necessity for effecting physical arrest and handcuffing the Judicial Officer and if it be established that the physical arrest and handcuffing of the Judicial Officer was unjustified, the Police Officers causing or responsible for such arrest and handcuffing would be guilty of misconduct and would also be personally liable for compensation and/or damages as may be summarily determined by the High Court.

The above guidelines are not exhaustive but these are minimum safeguards which must be observed in case of arrest of a judicial officer. These guidelines should be implemented by the State Government as well as by the High Courts.


Delhi Judicial Service v. State of gujrat (1991)