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SC awards 3-month jail to lawyer for contempt, suspends sentence on apology


New Delhi:  The Supreme Court Wednesday sentenced advocate Mathews J Nedumpara to three months in jail for contempt of court and attempting to "browbeat" judges but suspended the sentence after taking note of the unconditional apology tendered by him.

The apex court, which barred the advocate from practising before it for a year, said the jail sentence will be suspended only if Nedumpara abides by the undertaking that he will never attempt to browbeat judges of the top court and the Bombay High Court.

A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Vineet Saran, meanwhile, issued fresh contempt notice to Nedumpara and three others for "scandalous allegations" levelled against both the judges in a letter addressed to the President of India, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and other judges of the top court and the Bombay High Court.

On March 12, the top court had held him guilty of contempt for taking the name of noted jurist Fali S Nariman, the father of Justice R F Nariman, to allege that sons and daughters of judges were given priority in awarding 'senior advocate' designation and had said that he has attempted to browbeat the courts.

It had issued notice to the lawyer on the punishment to be imposed on him for committing contempt of court and had sought his response within two weeks.

The issue of contempt had cropped up when the bench was hearing a petition filed by an organisation, National Lawyers Campaign for Judicial Transparency and Reforms, which was represented by Nedumpara during the hearing.

In its order on Wednesday, the bench said: "We sentence Mathews J Nedumpara to three month imprisonment in jail which is suspended only if Mathews J Nedumpara, in future, continues to abide by the undertaking/affidavit (given by him).

"Mathews J Nedumpara is otherwise barred from practising as an advocate before the Supreme Court for a period of one year." 

The court said the fresh contempt case be placed before the CJI for constituting an appropriate bench to hear the matter as "serious allegations" have been levelled against both the judges of the present bench.

The bench noted in its verdict that Nedumpara has tendered an unconditional apology to the court by way of an affidavit given by him.

During the arguments on point of punishment to be imposed on Nedumpara, Justice Nariman said: "Are you (Nedumpara) aware that I have a daughter who is a practising lawyer and she is not allowed to enter this court? Are you aware that Justice U U Lalit's (sitting apex court judge) father is a lawyer?" 

When Nedumpara said he had raised an issue-based matter in the plea filed by his organisation, Justice Nariman said, "The issue is not Fali Nariman but about relatives practising as advocate before judges. Justice Lalit's issue was not mentioned and this shows it is not issue based." 

When the matter was argued in the morning session, Nedumpara told the bench that he has sought transfer of the case to another bench and he will also file an application seeking recall of the March 12 order holding him guilty of contempt of court.

However, the bench referred to a letter written by a Mumbai-based bar body to the President of India, the CJI and other judges and told Nedumpara that "one very very disturbing thing has taken place".

"They (bar body) have attacked us (both the judges) in the most scurrilous fashion," Justice Nariman said.

The bench told Nedumpara that it appeared as if he and the bar body were "acting in tandem" and have "embarked upon the task to destroy the superior judiciary of the country".

He later sought a pass over on the ground that his lawyer was on his way to the court after which the bench said that it would hear the matter at 2 PM today itself.

When the bench assembled at 2 PM in the post-lunch session, the counsel appearing for Nedumpara referred to the procedure of contempt of court and said no charges were framed in the matter.

However, the bench said, "Having held Nedumpara guilty of contempt of court, can other bench deal with the issue of punishment? Today, the issue is only about punishment." 

His counsel then told the bench that Nedumpara has taken the name of Fali S Nariman in a positive sense as the noted jurist is a "guiding light for all of us".

To this, Justice Saran observed, "The same gentleman (Nedumpara) had filed a writ petition to not allow him (Fali S Nariman) to practice (as an advocate) here (apex court). Do not go into all that." 

The Delhi High Court had recently dismissed Nedumpara's plea seeking to bar Fali S Nariman from practising as a lawyer in the apex court.

Later, Nedumpara also told the bench that he has nothing against Fali S Nariman and has utmost regard for him.

In its March 12 order holding the lawyer guilty of contempt of court, the bench had said that it was not the first time that Nedumpara had attempted to browbeat and insult judges of the apex court.

The court had further noted that Nedumpara had "misconducted himself repeatedly" before the Debt Recovery Tribunal, Bombay and before the Bombay High Court and "was in the habit of terrorising tribunal members and using intemperate language to achieve his ends before several judges of the Bombay High Court".

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