The Rajasthan High Court has come to the rescue of a judicial officer wrongly accused of contempt of court by purportedly disobeying a court order and imposed heavy costs on a person, who is an accused in a case of cheating, for dragging the lower court’s magistrate to the High Court through the “sheer abuse of the process of law”.

Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Satyapal Verma, who remanded Rajesh Singhal to police custody for two days in a criminal case in Pali in August 2011, was implicated in the contempt case by the latter on the ground that he had “committed breach” of an order of the High Court to consider the bail application of the accused on the day he surrendered in the court.

Mr. Verma, designated to hear environmental cases in the industrial township of Pali, was holding charge of the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court as its presiding officer had gone to attend a meeting of the Juvenile Justice Board. When Rajesh surrendered in the court on August 6, 2011, he remanded him to police custody as he was required for investigation in the case.

Rajesh’s bail application was rejected by the CJM after two days, but the Pali Sessions Judge released him on bail on furnishing security of Rs.50,000 on August 11, 2011, saying the trial of the accused was likely to take time after completion of investigation.

Rajesh filed a contempt petition in the High Court at its principal seat in Jodhpur in October 2011, much after his enlargement on bail, while accusing Mr. Verma of not considering his bail application as directed by the High Court. He sought cognizance against the magistrate under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

A Bench of the High Court summoned the records of the case in February 2012, while another Bench issued contempt notice to Mr. Verma in May last year.

Justice Vineet Kothari of the High Court, who heard the arguments, observed in his judgment delivered recently that the contempt petition was a “sheer and gross abuse of the process of the court” and Mr. Verma had not committed any disobedience of the High Court’s previous directive.

The Court held that consideration by way of postponement of bail application for two days, as the accused was sent in police custody, amounted to “consideration on the same day”. The word, “consider”, does not mean “grant” of bail, said the Judge, adding that it would necessarily include grant, rejection or even postponement for a given reason.

“If such contempt petitions were to be entertained against judicial officers and they were supposed to explain their conduct and exercise of their judicial discretion in cases like this, the independence of judiciary would be at stake,” said Justice Kothari in his 21-page judgment.

It was the duty of the superior courts to maintain, uphold and safeguard the independence of subordinate courts in discharge of their functions, he added.

Wrongly accused of contempt of court for disobeying order