At the outset, a bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said it has gone through the draft SOP submitted by the Centre in this regard and remarked that “some parts of the SOP are really more on how judicial review should be exercised”.
“We ask the court to frame some guidelines. We have proposed an SOP,” said Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, while pointing out that the main matter was filed after two officials from Uttar Pradesh were taken into custody for non-compliance of an order of the Allahabad High Court, who were later released on directions of the Supreme Court.
The bench while reserving the judgment, stressed that in pending cases, where an affidavit filed by an official may serve the purpose must be distinguished with cases of non-compliance of final judgements, where the presence of government officials concerned may be necessary.
Recently, the Central government submitted a draft SOP for the consideration of the Supreme Court, saying that personal presence of government officials in courts should only be called for in exceptional cases and not as a matter of routine.
“Howsoever, in exceptional cases too wherein in-person appearance of government official is still called for by the court, the court should allow as a first option, to appear before it through VC (video conference),” the SOP suggested.
The SOP placed reliance upon the earlier judgments of the Supreme Court providing that courts should practice necessary restraint while summoning the government officials during hearing of cases like writs, PILs and contempt cases.
Referring to an instance, where Patna High Court reprimanded the Principal Secretary for Housing and Urban Development of the Bihar government for “inappropriate attire” though he was dressed in a formal white shirt and trousers, the Centre said that courts should refrain commenting on dress or physical appearance of government officials.
Further, the judge of the Patna HC had asked if the officer had attended the civil service training institute in Mussoorie and if they had not told him “how to appear in court”.
“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.
It said that no contempt should be initiated based on statements made by government counsels that is contrary to the stand of the government affirmed through affidavit or written statement or reply submitted before the court.
“Compliance should not be insisted upon by court directing a particular outcome, especially on matters in the executive domain,” read the SOP.
In case, timeframe stated in the judicial order is requested to be revised on behalf of the government, the court may allow for a revised reasonable timeframe for compliance, it added.