A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India held that contempt petition is not maintainable when the functions discharged by the sitting Supreme Court Judge under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 are purely statutory in nature independent of the jurisdiction vested in the Supreme Court.
“We do not have any doubt that functions of the Commission appointed under the 1952 Act are not like a body discharging judicial functions or judicial power. The Commission appointed under the 1952 Act in our view is not a Court and making the inquiry or determination of facts by the Commission is not of judicial character”, the Court ruled.
The Court was dealing with a contempt petition that arose from an editorial published in Indian Express in 1990. The editorial allegedly has some negative comments in respect of the sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India, who was the Commissioner under the Commission of Inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 and the judiciary respectively. The question arose whether Commission, under the 1952 Act, is a Court under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
“The Court is an institution which has power to regulate legal rights by the delivery of definitive judgments, and to enforce its orders by legal sanctions and if its procedure is judicial in character in such matters as the taking of evidence and the administration of oath, then it is a court. The Commission constituted under the 1952 Act does not meet these pre-eminent tests of a Court”, it said.
The Court further added, “The Commission constituted under the 1952 Act 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 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”, the Court concluded.