Sit in the corner of the Court room till the rising of the Court and pay a fine of Rupees Two Lakhs, ordered Meghalaya High Court while holding that the two women journalists of Shillong Times, Patricia Mukhim and Shoba Chaudhuri have committed ‘contempt of court’. Irony is that the order has been passed on a day celebrated as ‘Women’s day’.
If the payment of fine is defaulted, the Court added that the ‘journalists will have to undergo six months simple imprisonment and the paper so called “Shillong Times” will automatically come to an end (banned)’
What provoked the bench comprising Chief Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Justice Sudip Ranjan Sen was an article published in the “Shillong Times” under the caption “When Judges judge for themselves“. The article was related to an order passed by the High Court regarding retirement benefit to judges.
Editor Patricia Mukhim and Publisher Shobha Chaudhuri were pulled up by the High Court by initiating Suo motu contempt proceedings. The court in its contempt notice, said that the newspaper report in question not only is in bad taste but also shows the High Court in very poor light. The Court was also appraised by the Amicus Curiae that Patricia Mukhim had made some comments against judges in social media and ‘even gone to the extent of mocking the judicial system of this country’.
Perturbed Justice Sen, wrote in his order: “We would like to ask whether the contemnor, Smti. Patricia Mukhim wants to control the judiciary as per her desire and will? If it is so, she is very much wrong.” The court further said:
It is correct to say that the social media has a right to publish the news and is a part of the democracy, subject to duty. The sacred duty of the media is to publish correct news, so that the actual fact reaches the people. They are not at all entitled to write as they like and slur the image of an individual or institution. The contemnors here must remember that though, they have the right to publish news and sell their papers, but it is limited, subject to their duties. They are not supposed to file any report without understanding the background of the case or verifying the truth. Only true news should be published not the false report and if anybody violates, they are liable for defamation and contempt of Courts.”
The court also said that the particular newspaper was always working against the Judges and Judicial System. The court added:
“Smti. Patricia Mukhim must understand that we are Judges and our job is to deliver justice for the people in general and we have our own disciplinary methods… we don’t believe in judicial activism, we go according to the law, neither had we intimidated anyone by any notice”
Responding to a remark made by Patricia Mukhim in Social media alleging that a judge told a counsel of an accused to literally “Shut up” and not speak, Justice Sen said:
I myself with full faith and conscience, I say that I never asked any litigants or officer or lawyer about their personal life, rather it is a known fact to every members in the bar that I speak very less and hear the matters in accordance with law. So, if it indicates to Justice S.R. Sen, it is totally false and without any basis and we Judges maintain the dignity of the Court at all costs. Justice S.R. Sen till date never shouted and never said to any lawyer the word “Shut up”.
The court also rejected the unconditional apology tendered by the journalists observing that it appears to be a calculated strategy so as to avoid punishment. It observed:
“The contemnors all along have contested the matter and finally realizing that the contest is not in their better interest have tendered unconditional apology at the last moment. The contemnors being responsible persons should not have indulged in the acts falling within the purview of derogation to the administration of justice.”
The bench finally ordered:
“In exercise of the power vested on us by Article 215 of the Constitution of India, we sentence both the contemnors to sit in the corner of the Court room till the rising of the Court and impose a fine of Rs. 2,00,000/- (Rupees two lakhs) each which is to be deposited with the Registry within a week and then to be deposited in the welfare fund of this High Court. We also further direct that in default of payment, both the contemnors will have to undergo 6(six) months simple imprisonment and the paper so called “Shillong Times” will automatically come to an end (banned).”