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.
Under the constitutional scheme Supreme Court has a special role in the administration of justice and the powers conferred on it under Article 32, 136, 141 and 142 form part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The amplitude of the power of the court under these Articles of the Constitution cannot be curtailed by law made by Central or State Legislature.
The Supreme Court and the High Court both exercise concurrent jurisdiction under the constitutional scheme in matters relating to fundamental rights under Articles 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. The Apex Court is duty bound to take effective steps within the constitutional provisions to ensure a free and fair administration of justice throughout the country.
For that purpose, it must wield the requisite power to take action for contempt of subordinate courts. 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. The Supreme Court will sparingly exercise its inherent power in taking cognizance of the contempt of subordinate courts, as ordinarily matters relating to contempt of subordinate courts must be dealt with by the High 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.
Once the Supreme Court is satisfied that the criminal proceedings amount to abuse of process of court it would quash such proceedings to ensure justice. 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 helpless 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 justice in the matter.
Court of Record
Article 129 declares the Supreme Court a court of record and it further provides that the Supreme Court shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.
In the case of ‘Delhi judicial Service v. State of Gujrat, (1991)’, the court said that,
“The expression used in Article 129 is not restrictive instead it is extensive in nature. If the Framers of the Constitution intended that the Supreme Court shall have power to punish for contempt of itself only, there was no necessity for inserting the expression “including the power to punish for contempt of itself’. The Article confers power on the Supreme Court to punish for contempt of itself and in addition, it confers some additional power relating to contempt as would appear from the expression ‘including”.
Since, the Supreme Court is designed by the Constitution as a court of record and as the Founding Fathers were aware that a superior court of record had inherent power to indict a person for the contempt of itself as well as of courts inferior to it, the expression “including” was deliberately inserted in the Article. Article 129 recognised the existing inherent power of a court of record in its full plenitude including the power to punish for the contempt of inferior courts. If Article 129 is susceptible to two interpretations, we would prefer to accept the interpretation which would preserve the inherent jurisdiction of this Court being the superior court of record, to safeguard and protect the subordinate judiciary, which forms the very back bone of administration of justice.
The High Court being a court of record has inherent power in respect of contempt of itself as well as of its subordinate courts even in the absence of any express provision in any Act. A fortiori the Supreme Court being the Apex Court of the country and superior court of record should possess the same inherent jurisdiction and power for taking action for contempt of itself, as well as, for the contempt of subordinate and inferior courts.”
The court further held that,
“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 this 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.
The Apex Court is duty bound to take effective steps within the constitutional provisions to ensure a free and fair administration of justice throughout the country, for that purpose it must wield the requisite power to take action for contempt of subordinate courts.”
As held in Delhi judicial Service v. State of Gujrat (1991)