Commission of inquiry is not a court, says SC
The Supreme Court Wednesday said a commission set up under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, and headed by a sitting judge of the apex court could not be treated as a court for initiating any contempt proceedings for making critically comments on its findings.
"In our view, a commission appointed under the 1952 Act is not a court for the purposes of Contempt of Courts Act even though it is headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge," said the constitution bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Anil R. Dave, Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya, Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh.
"Moreover, section 10A of the 1952 Act leaves no matter of doubt that the high court has been conferred with the power to take cognizance of the complaint in respect of the acts calculated to bring the commission or any member thereof into disrepute," said Chief Justice Lodha.
The court said section 10A provides the power of constructive contempt to the commission by making a reference to the high court with a right of appeal to the apex court.
The court said this while answering in negative to a question on whether a sitting Supreme Court judge, who is appointed commissioner by the central government, carries with him all the powers and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
The court dismissed a plea by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy seeking contempt proceedings against former Indian Express editor Arun Shourie for making adverse comments against Justice Kuldip Singh after he submitted his report as chairman of an inquiry commission set up by the government.
Counsel D.D. Thakur, who appeared for Shourie, raised the objection that the petition was not maintainable since consent of the attorney general or the solicitor general was not obtained as required by section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act.
The court set out to address the question as to whether suo motu proceedings can be initiated against the alleged contemnor.
"We are also in agreement with the submission of Mohan Parasaran, solicitor general (since resigned) that a commission appointed under the 1952 Act is in the nature of a statutory commission and merely because a Commission of Inquiry is headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, it does not become an extended arm of this court," the bench said.
"The commission constituted under the Commission of Inquiry Act 1952 is a fact finding body to enable the appropriate government to decide as to the course of action to be followed. Such commission is not required to adjudicate upon the rights of the parties and has no adjudicatory functions," the court said.
"The government is not bound to accept its recommendations or act upon its findings. The mere fact that the procedure adopted by the Commission is of a legal character and it has the power to administer oath will not clothe it with the status of court," it said.
(Posted on 23-07-2014)