Supreme Court stays Madras High Court order initiating contempt proceedings against advocate for filing recall application

The initiation of contempt proceedings by the High Court against the petitioner for doing his professional duty will not only ‘silence’ him, but have a “chilling effect” on the bar, the Supreme Court was told by the petitioner’s counsel.


THE Supreme Court earlier today stayed an order of the Madras High Court initiating suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against an advocate who had filed a recall application before the high court, claiming that he was not properly heard while dismissing his writ petition.

A three-judge bench of Justices U.U. Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, while staying the order of the high court, issued notice to the Registrar General of the Madras High Court as well.

On April 22, the Madras High Court took suo motu cognizance and initiated criminal contempt proceedings against the petitioner – advocate N. Subramaniyan.

The High Court was prompted to initiate contempt proceedings against the petitioner as he had filed a recall application in a case.

In 2016, the Supreme Court had confirmed an earlier judgment of the Madras High Court in 2015, upholding that the inter se seniority of directly recruited Assistant Engineers would be fixed only as per the marks they scored in their selection and not on the basis of roster point seniority.

Despite the court orders, the state government attempted to make promotions based on the roster point seniority, without marks-based seniority. Therefore, the Assistant Executive Engineers filed a petition seeking to revise the seniority list of Assistant Executive Engineers based on marks as per the court orders. Subsequently, the High Court passed an order restraining the state government from making promotions based on roster point seniority.

For the next three years, the High Court had passed several interim orders. In March 2022, the high court heard the matter for final disposal and dismissed the petitions on certain grounds.

The petitioners before the High Court were advised by the petitioner-advocate to file a recall application against the high court order.

Accordingly, the same was done and the petitioner essentially apprised the High Court that he had not been allowed to argue the grounds challenging the vires of the provision under challenge in the writ petition, and that what was argued by the petitioner for the purpose of narrating the cause of action for filing the writ petition was wrongly recorded in the order, dated 17.03.2022, as the grounds for challenging the vires of the provision.

In April, when the recall application came up for hearing, the Additional Advocate General raised an objection that the affidavit sworn by the petitioner contained incorrect facts with a view to scandalise and lower the authority of the high court and even the Supreme Court. The high court then proceeded to take suo motu cognizance to issue notice for initiation of the criminal contempt against the petitioner.

Aggrieved by this order, the petitioner moved the Supreme Court.

It was the petitioner’s case that the Madras High Court had erred in initiating contempt proceedings against him despite the fact that in the recall application, there was no personal allegation or attribution whatsoever of any bias, motive or incompetency against any of the judges.

In his petition, he clarified that he is a long-standing and respected member of the Bar and has an unblemished professional reputation. Further, it has been contended by the petitioner that he has the highest regard for the judges of Supreme Court and the Madras High Court, and there was absolutely nothing scandalous in the recall application filed.

The petitioner also claimed that he has utmost faith in the institution of judiciary and considers it his bounden duty to conduct himself with dignity and self-respect while being respectful towards the courts, the plea stated.

The petitioner submitted that if the High Court’s order initiating contempt proceedings is not stayed, then out of fear of being proceeded against for contempt of court, no advocate would ever dare to file a recall/review application before any court of law where the court fails to refer and adjudicate the specific issues, grounds and prayers of a writ petition, or fails to hear them on the merits of a case, or where a court’s order fails to record or wrongly records the arguments of an advocate.

The petitioner further pointed out that filing a recall application can never amount to scandalizing the authority of the court.

Also, the initiation of contempt proceedings against the petitioner for filing such a recall application (and thereby, doing his legal duty as an advocate representing the client) was tantamount to silencing the Bar. If the contempt proceedings are allowed to be continued against the petitioner, then no advocate would ever be able to respectfully and fearlessly perform their duties towards the court and his clients, the plea read.

The plea further observed,

“The initiation of contempt proceedings against the Petitioner herein for doing his professional duty will not only have the effect of ‘silencing’ the Petitioner herein but will also have a “chilling effect” on the bar.”

On these grounds, the plea sought a stay against the Madras High Court order which initiated contempt proceedings against the petitioner.

The petitioner was represented by senior advocate, Chander Uday Singh and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

The next hearing will be on July 15.