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SC to issue guidelines on summoning of government officials to courts across country

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NEW DELHI, Aug 21: The Supreme Court said on Monday it will lay down the broad guidelines to be followed by courts across the country while summoning government officials.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said there must be different sets of procedure to deal with contempt proceedings arising out of non-compliance of final judgements and the interim orders passed in pending cases.

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In pending cases, the affidavits of officials may serve the purpose, while in contempt cases, arising out of non-compliance of court orders, the presence of government officials concerned may be necessary, the bench said.

“We will lay down some guidelines for summoning of government officers. There must be
bifurcation of matters pending and the ones in which adjudication is complete. For pending (cases), summoning officers is not needed but once adjudication is complete then contempt steps in,” it said.

While reserving its order on framing the guidelines for summoning government officials, the bench
said it will set aside the two orders of the Allahabad High Court which had led to the arrest of two
secretaries of the Uttar Pradesh government’s finance department.

The officials were taken into custody on the orders of the Allahabad High Court in a contempt case. As the proceedings commenced, the bench took note of the draft standard operating procedures (SOPs) submitted by the Centre on the issue and observed that some of them cannot be acted upon.

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“We have gone through the draft SOP. It is more in relation with as to how judicial review powers
should be exercised,” it said. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said even he will not press for some of them (the proposed SOPs).

However, the law officer said if an appeal by the government and its officials are filed against orders summoning them in contempt cases, then the court below should wait for the final outcome on the appeal before proceeding with the case. The bench then said it will frame a “broad” SOP on the issue.

The court was hearing a case involving the summoning of two government officials by the high court for contempt. Earlier, the central government had submitted to the apex court the draft SOP containing suggestions which could be followed by courts while summoning government officials. Appearance through video conferencing, refraining from making comments on the physical appearance and educational background of government officials and reasonable time frame for compliance of judicial orders are some of the suggestions that have been included in the SOP.
The SOP submitted for the apex court’s consideration is intended to be applicable to all proceedings in government-related matters before the Supreme Court, high courts and all other courts that are hearing matters under their respective appellate and/or original jurisdiction (writ petitions, PIL etc.) or proceedings related to contempt of court.

As per the SOP, in case of proceedings related to government matters where the personal
appearance of a government official is involved, in-person appearance of government officials
should be called for only in exceptional cases and not as a matter of routine.

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“Courts should practice necessary restraint while summoning the government officials during the
hearing of cases (writs, PILs etc.) including contempt cases.

“In exceptional circumstances wherein there is no option other than the concerned government
official to be present in person in the court, due notice for in-person appearance, giving sufficient
time for such appearance, must be served in advance to such official,” the draft SOP said.

However, in exceptional cases, where in-person appearance of a government official is still called for by the court, the court should allow as a first option to appear before it through video conference, it said. “The invitation link of VC for appearance and viewing, as the case may be, can be sent by the Registry to the given mobile no/e-mail id by SMS/email/WhatsApp of the concerned official at least one day before the scheduled hearing. The appearance of government official in cases as pro forma party should be avoided,” the draft says.

The draft guidelines state that comments on the “dress/physical appearance/educational and social background” of the government official appearing before the court should be avoided.
“Government officials are not officers of the court and there should be no objection to their
appearing in a decent work dress unless such appearance is unprofessional or unbecoming of her/his position,” the SOP said.

On April 20, the top court had ordered forthwith the release of two secretaries of the Uttar Pradesh finance department who were taken into custody on the orders of the Allahabad High Court. The matter was then mentioned for urgent hearing by Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government.

He had said an “unprecedented order” was passed by the high court by which the finance secretary and special secretary (finance) have been taken into custody in a contempt matter in a case related to facilities for retired high court judges. Nataraj said the high court also issued bailable warrants to the chief secretary of the state in the matter.

The Allahabad High Court had on April 4 ordered that the two officers — Shahid Manzar Abbas Rizvi, Secretary (Finance) UP and Sarayu Prasad Mishra, Special Secretary (Finance) — who were present before it, be taken into custody and produced before the relevant court for framing of charges. (PTI)

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