SC deprecates frequent summoning of government officials in court

The bench noted the submission that the pending review petition was yet to come up before the high court and granted liberty to petitioners to mention the matter thereafter. [File]

The Supreme Court has deprecated the practice of “frequent, causal and lackadaisical” summoning of high officials of government by courts and termed such a move of the Allahabad High Court as “unnecessary harassment of the officers”.

The apex court said it is “quite shocked” after perusing the high court order and fails to understand what purpose was being served by calling the officers after the top court had already stayed a previous order related to the payment of back wages to a state government employee.

A bench of Justices Sanjay KishanKaul and Hemant Gupta stayed the Allahabad High Court’s single-judge order of March 2 initiating contempt proceedings and summoning two officials of the Uttar Pradesh government.

The bench, which passed the order on Tuesday, said the top Court has on various occasions through judicial pronouncements deprecated the practice of unnecessarily calling officers to Court.  

Referring to a 2011 verdict of the top court, the bench said it has been observed that the trust, faith and confidence of the common man in the judiciary cannot be frittered away by unnecessary and unwarranted show or exercise of power.

“Greater the power, greater should be the responsibility in exercising such power,” the bench said and added that “the frequent, causal and lackadaisical summoning of high officials by the Court cannot be appreciated”.

The top court, while referring to another 2011 verdict, said, “We may add that this does not mean that in compelling situations the same cannot be done but the object cannot be to humiliate senior officials”.

It made it clear that no presence of any officer concerned is required and as and when, if the occasion so arises, for restarting the contempt proceedings against the officials, the matter will be placed before a bench of another Judge.

The top court directed its order be placed before the single judge who passed the order for initiating the contempt proceedings as well as the Chief Justice of the High Court.

The top court was hearing an appeal filed by UP government against the March 2 order of the High Court summoning two officials for initiating contempt proceeding against them for non-compliance of the March 5, 2020, order directing payment of back wages to an employee of the state government.

The top court said that it had issued notice on the appeal filed by the state government on February 22, 2021 and stayed the March 5, last year order.

It noted that after the stay order passed by the top court, the High Court had on March 2, 2021, initiated the contempt proceedings against the two officials for non-compliance of the March 5, 2020 order.

The top court said the fact that the order was stayed by the apex court was brought to the notice of the high court by way of an application filed for exemption from personal appearance.

“Once the order of which contempt was alleged was stayed, there would be no cause for calling the officers as there was no question of any non-compliance of the order which had been stayed,” the bench said.  

It said that there is no doubt if the order is not complied with, presence can be directed unless exempted but “if the operation of the order is stayed, we fail to understand what purpose was being served by calling the officers for the next date as no specific date had been fixed by the Court post the stay having been granted”.

It said, “We do believe that this is unnecessary harassment of the officers and there was no occasion to pass the order on March 2, 2021. It has resulted in the petitioners being compelled to move the present application.”