The Leaflet

| @theleaflet_in | March 15,2019

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna today stayed an order passed by the Meghalaya High Court, sentencing The Shillong Times editor and publisher for contempt of court.

The Supreme Court has also issued notice to the Registrar General of the Meghalaya High Court.

The Petitioner, Patricia Mukhim, had approached the Supreme Court against a judgment of the division bench of Meghalaya High Court, comprising Chief Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Justice SR Sen convicting her for criminal contempt of court and sentencing her to sit in a corner of the court room until the rising of the court and to pay a fine of Rs. 2,00,000 within a week.

 

Severe penalties

 

In the event of her failure to pay the said sum within one week, the court ordered that The Shillong Times would be shut down and the petitioner would undergo simple imprisonment for a term of six months.

 

 

The High Court had initiated contempt proceedings against the petitioner for having published two news reports on December 6, 2018  and December 10, 2018,  titled, “High Court pursues retirement benefits to judges, family” and the “When judges judge for themselves,” respectively.

The said news reports, according to petitioner, were fair and accurate reporting in relation to a suo motu proceedings that had been undertaken by the High Court of Meghalaya in relation to post-retirement benefits to Chief Justices and Judges of the High Court and their families, including medical treatment, mobile phone bill allowance, state guest house, protocol/service etc.

 

Constitutional protection

 

The petitioner submitted to the Supreme Court that the news reports were fair and accurate and did not in any manner constitute contempt within the definition of the Act. Further, such content was fully protected, not only under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, that guarantees freedom of speech and expression, but also under Sections 4 and 5 of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971.

 

 

The petitioner was represented in the Supreme Court by the Advocate Vrinda Grover.

The contentious newspaper reports are reproduced below:

 

06.12.2018 – “HC pursues retirement benefits to judges, family”

 

“SHILLONG: The High Court of Meghalaya has said the government should include spouse and children of retired judges for medical treatment and other facilities.

During the hearing of the petition of Registrar General, the High Court of Meghalaya against the State Government on Wednesday, the single bench headed by Justice SR Sen said the additional advocate general filed an affidavit regarding medical facilities to retired judges.

 

 

However, the court said it appears that the benefits as per the affidavit were given only to retired judges.

“The government is directed to revise the said rule as follows: ‘Retired judges/spouse/children’. So, it means that they should include spouse and children for medical treatment.The Law Secretary is directed to revise the same as ordered above within a week,” the order said.

 

Protocol, guest rules

 

As for the protocol service/Meghalaya State Guest Rules of retired judges, it was informed to the court that the matter was under process by the GAD.

According to the court, the Meghalaya State Guest Rule, 1991, was there at the inception of the High Court but suddenly it was withdrawn without consultation of the High Court by some officers.

The government had issued a notification on October 4 this year whereby it had amended Rule 10(a) of the Meghalaya State Guest Rule, 1991.

“It is unfortunate that such amendment was made without consultation with the High Court. Accordingly, the notification dated October 4, 2018, is hereby set aside,” the court said.

The court also directed the GAD to make protocol service as well as the Meghalaya State Guest Rules “at the same tune and equal facilities to be provided as is applicable to sitting judges, including spouse and children”.

 

Domestic help

 

On February 20 this year, the full court passed a resolution for enhancement of domestic helps for retired judges but the same was sent back for reconsideration by the full court.

“I am not pressing right now for enhancement of domestic help and it is left with the discretion of the government. However, domestic allowances as per the resolution, government should also include spouse/children of the retired judges,” the court said.

The matter relating to reimbursement of phone bills of retired chief justice, retired judges of the High Court was fixed at Rs 10,000 per month in the full court.

 

Mobile bill

 

“In that regard, the government (is) to issue a notification with immediate effect. That means retired chief justice and judges will be entitled for Rs 10,000 only per month for mobile bill, landline, internet bills etc as well as to fix mobile at the rate of Rs 80,000 only for the judges,” the order said.

 

 

The order said one-and-a-half months ago, the chief justice had convened a meeting comprising chief secretary, additional chief secretary, GAD and law secretary, but it appears that nothing has happened till date.

 

Deadline

 

“This whole exercise is to be completed within a week from the date of the order otherwise this court will be compelled to take suo motu contempt against the officers,” the court said.

The matter will come up for hearing on December 13.”

10.12.2018 – “When Judges judge for themselves”

 

“SHILLONG: The recent order of Justice SR Sen to provide facilities for retired judges and their families is reminiscent of the order passed by former chief justice of the High Court of Meghalaya Uma Nath Singh and former justice TNK Singh.

Prior to their retirement, the chief justice had ordered on January 7, 2016, to provide Z category security to him and Y category for the former judge Singh.

However, after state resident Sajay Laloo challenged this in the Supreme Court, only normal security arrangement was allowed for them.

In a suo motu proceeding, the former chief justice wanted the state government to provide permanent security for him and other retired judges.

In the recent order, Justice SR Sen, who is set to retire in March, wanted several facilities for the retired chief justice and judges, their spouses and children. Besides providing medical facilities for the spouses and children, the order stressed the need for providing protocol, guest houses, domestic help, mobile/internet charge at the rate of Rs 10,000 and mobile for Rs 80,000 for judges”.

 

Read the Petition

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