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Bombay HC issues criminal contempt on Mirror for reporting what happened in court & ‘caricature’

Mirror Mirror 8 May, reporting court proceedings with coloured 'caricature' of judge
Mirror Mirror 8 May, reporting court proceedings with coloured 'caricature' of judge

The Bombay high court has served a show cause contempt notice on the Mumbai Mirror for reporting a litigant’s claim made in court earlier this year, alleging that the judge hearing his matter was corrupt.

In May, film producer Sanjay Punamiya had accused of corruption Bombay high court judge Justice Roshan Dalvi, who was hearing his Mumbai property dispute with the Kuwaiti royal family, alleging that her husband had offered favourable rulings for Rs 25 lakh.

At a hearing earlier today (13 October), counsel for the Mirror’s editor and reporter, Kanga & Co and senior counsel Pravin Samdani, sought time to reply and the matter was adjourned.

The details of the dispute as well as the allegation by Punamiya made in open court was reported by the Mumbai Mirror on 8 May, leading with:

In a first of its kind courtroom drama, a defendant levelled allegations of corruption against a Bombay High Court judge, and asked her to recuse herself from the matter.

Justice Dalvi responded by issuing a show cause notice to Punamiya why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against him and his advocate Nilesh Ojha, as reported by Legally India on 10 May.

Punayima and Ojha tendered unconditional apologies in June, as reported by the Mirror in July, but they also asked for another judge to hear their case. They also appealed against the contempt petition against them.

On 3 September 2014, chief justice Mohit Shah and Justice MS Sonak dismissed Punamiya’s appeal against the contempt notice as non-maintainable, and also held:

It would, however, not suffice to close the matter at this stage as, in our view, the acts on the part of appellant (defendant no.1) and his Advocate Mr.Nilesh Ojha on 5/7 May 2014 and thereafter, prima facie, amount to criminal contempt of this High Court. In Daily Mumbai Mirror of 8 May 2014, a half page prominent news item appeared as reported by Bapu Deedwania with following headlines in colour:

“YOU ARE CORRUPT, DEFENDANT TELLS JUDGE Producer Sanjay Punamiya makes allegation in Court; Refusing to relent, Justice Roshan Dalvi says she will continue hearing case”

The daily Bombay Mirror has given a coloured caricature illustration of learned Single Judge and a photograph of the appellant. The news item not only purported to report the incident which allegedly occurred during the hearing of the case before the learned Single Judge on 7 May 2014, but also the allegations made in the aforesaid complaint dated 5 May 2014 about the alleged promise by relative of learned Single Judge to give a favourable order from the learned Single Judge on payment of Rs.25 lakhs. The reporter specifically stated as under:

“(The learned Single Judge) read the complaint and instead of giving up and recusing herself, said she would continue to hear the case …..”

The news paper clearly indicates that Mr.Nilesh Ojha, Advocate gave an interview to the reporter about the complaint dated 5 May 2014, a copy of which was submitted to the Chief Justice and also sent to the Director of CBI and others and as to why CBI has not taken action on the complaint.

According to the order, Ojha then also submitted his allegations against Dalvi in an 84-page representation to the National Human Rights Commission, the Bar Council of India (BCI), the Maharasthra state bar council and the Bombay Lawyers Association.

He later withdrew that complaint too.

Last month the bench hearing the appeal held that Punamiya had “prima facie … committed criminal contempt”, and suo motu proceedings should be initiated against him and his advocate Ojha.

HC serves media contempt

However, the high court bench then proceeded to delve into the Mumbai Mirror reporting Punamiya’s statements and the illustration of Dalvi that accompanied the report (see screenshot above):

23. We are further of the view that show cause notice is also required to be issued to Mr. [sic] Bapu Deedwania, reporter of daily Bombay Mirror, who has prepared the report published in daily Mumbai Mirror edition of 8 May 2014. The report so published would prima facie constitute criminal contempt as defined under Section 2(c) of the Act not merely because the report hurriedly publishes allegations against a Sitting Judge of this Court without waiting for the outcome of the enquiry pursuant to the complaint and even without looking at the order dictated by the Judge on 7 May and uploaded on 9 May 2014, but also for the manner in which the report scandalizes by giving the headlines, which are already reproduced hereinabove and the caricature illustration of the learned Single Judge.

Looking at even a black and white photostat copy of the writing in the report, one would not be able to realize the impact that the coloured headlines and coloured caricature of the Judge would convey.

The court then referred to 2010 contempt proceedings over an investigative report of the Mumbai Mirror’s sister paper, the Times of India. The Times had reported in 2010 that there were allegations of lapses in the Bombay high court’s registry relating to testamentary cases.

After having been served with a contempt notice, the Times later published a front-page apology and promised the court that it would exercise “adequate diligence” “in respect of the articles and reports covering working and functioning of the Hon’ble Court to ensure that the articles meets the highest journalistic standards and do not scandalize, interfere with or obstruct the administration of justice or cause contempt to the Hon’ble Court in any manner”.

Justices Shah and Sonak wrote in their order that it was “shocking that notwithstanding such assurances, such a scandalous, defamatory and contemptuous report came to be published in daily Mumbai Mirror dated 8 May 2014” and issued notice to the Mirror’s editor and the story’s reporter, Bapu Deedwania, as to why criminal contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them.

Bombay HC: Punamiya Mumbai Mirror contempt appeal

Full disclosure: Legally India has written articles for the Mumbai Mirror on unrelated matters.

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