On Thursday morning, when The Shillong Times’ editor, Patricia Mukhim, appeared in the court of judge SR Sen, he asked her: “What is your qualification, madam, to write about judges?” The Meghalaya High Court judge, who has recently been in the headlines for suggesting that India should have been a Hindu country, had summoned the editor for alleged contempt of court after the daily published a particular report on December 10. Entitled “When judges judge for themselves”, it reported on a recent order passed by Sen calling for better facilities for retired judges and their families.
Sen retires in March next year.
The same day the report was published, Sen sent a show-cause notice to Mukhim and the paper’s publisher, Shobha Chaudhuri, asking for an explanation for why contempt charges should not be initiated against them. Mukhim and Chaudhuri were in court on Tuesday morning, following Sen’s directions that they make a “personal appearance” in his court.
The notice stated that it was “shocking that the publisher and editor of said newspaper without knowing the law or background of the case is making comments which is definitely derogatory to a judge who is handling the case as well as the entire judges’ community”.
Referring to the font of the headline, Sen wrote: “I cannot understand what was so important that it is highlighted in pink colour.” He added the “media is no one to dictate the court what the court should or should not do”.
People present in the court on Thursday morning, who did not want to be identified, said that Sen was visibly indignant. After questioning Mukhim about her credentials, Sen apparently trained his gun on the publishers: “Why are you appointing such kind of editors?” Another person, acquainted with what transpired in the court, quoted Sen as telling Mukhim and Chaudhuri, “I will see to it that you cannot get away with it.”
Both Mukhim and Chaudhuri declined to comment, but a person familiar with the case said that they defended themselves by saying they did not understand at the time that the headline could be construed as contemptuous.
The matter has been placed before the Meghalaya High Court’s chief justice, who will assign it to another bench. According to a lawyer based in Shillong, this transfer is required by due process: since Sen’s judgment was the subject of the report, another bench must hear the matter.
The next hearing is scheduled on December 17 where Mukhim and Chaudhuri are expected to explain in writing their position. If the court does find Mukhim and Chaudhuri guilty of contempt, they could be end up serving time in jail.