Courting Controversy

Courts are sacrosanct places and demand a certain behaviour and dress code. When these are flouted, judges have been known to pull up the person concerned

In a recent incident at Gurgaon’s district court, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Naveen Sharma, faced rebuke for not saluting the judge properly during proceedings. The incident highlighted the need for police officers to know rules and protocol. The incident forced the First Class judicial magistrate to direct the police commissioner to take necessary action against the ACP.

The case where the ACP was appearing related to a complaint lodged by a person staying in Palam Vihar in February 2023. He had alleged that a fraudulent land deal involving Rs 25 lakh had taken place by two persons who had falsely claimed that they were working for the CM’s office. Despite payment, the promised work was not completed, leading to threats against the complainant when he demanded his money back. One of the accused is identified as a constable in the Haryana Police. The charges against him include those under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

ACP Sharma and his team were in the court to present the suspect. After the presentation, Sharma’s unorthodox salute—using just two fingers—caught the judge’s notice, leading to a query about where he had learned such a salute. The ACP explained that he was aware of three ways to salute—by just raising an eyebrow, placing a hand on the forehead and a full formal salute. On realising the gravity of the situation, Sharma attributed his improper salute to his tight shirt, which he claimed had cramped his movement.

The judicial magistrate, while quoting the Punjab Police Rules, 1934, reminded him that every police officer in uniform was required to salute the court upon entering it, regardless of the ongoing session or the presiding judicial officer’s rank.

According to the Police Drill Manual, every officer must understand the importance of saluting. It is a method of greeting a superior and not a servile act. It is an outward sign of the inward spirit of discipline and respect for superiors. The general tone and feeling in a police force is indicated as much by the manner in which the men salute and the officers return the salute as by any other action.

A salute is, in fact, the normal greeting between comrades in arms. That a salute is given when a subordinate meets a superior officer is a basic matter of discipline. That the salute is properly and smartly given is a matter of training. That the salute is promptly and properly returned is a matter of duty. Failure to salute or to return it shows disrespect and a low standard of discipline. Failure by the officer in uniform to insist on being saluted is also a breach of discipline.

In 2020, the Rajasthan High Court Judge SP Sharma was hearing a bail application through video call as he was down with Covid. However, an advocate started arguing the case in his vest only. The judge became angry and stopped the hearing and gave a further date in the case. The Court summoned the president and general secretary of the High Court Bar Association and said that the advocate should argue in uniform keeping in mind the dignity of the Court. The Bar officials assured the Court that they would inform advocates in this regard.

In 2021, the Allahabad High Court declined to hear a matter because the petitioner’s counsel was riding a scooter while trying to address the Court through video conference. A division bench of Justices Manoj Kumar Gupta and Syed Aftab Husain Rizvi warned the counsel not to repeat the act in future.

The same year, Justice Dr KJ Thakar of the Allahabad High Court was displeased with the behaviour of a petitioner’s advocate who demanded the Court give the next date for hearing when the judge was going to dismiss the case. The judge imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on him. Later, the advocate apologised and the fine order was withdrawn.

In his order, the judge said that when it was told that the Court was going to dismiss the case, how did the lawyer ask for an adjournment? This wasted the valuable time of the Court.

In a unique case of the Patna High Court, a judge reprimanded a senior IAS officer for his dress code. The judge asked him whether he was in the cinema hall wearing such clothes and did he not know in what dress he had to appear in Court; at least the coat and collar should not be open. Not only this, the judge asked the IAS officer if he had attended the Civil Services Training Institute in Mussoorie.

In January last year, a lawyer appeared in the Gauhati High Court in jeans during hearing in a bail case. Justice Kalyan Rai Surana ordered the police to remove him from the High Court campus. Later in February 2024, the High Court pulled up the same man for justifying wearing jeans to Court. Dismissing the lawyer’s application, Justice Surana said if jeans were allowed in Court, then there could be similar demands for permitting torn or faded jeans or even pyjamas inside the courtroom.

In 2023, in a letter to all Bar associations, the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry warned advocates against wearing jeans, capris and leggings to courts. The Council said any contravention  of the prescribed dress code would be punishable under Section 35 of the Advocates Act, 1961.

Another case where a judge took umbrage was when the Registrar of Allahabad High Court sought clarification from Railway officials about the “inconvenience” faced by the judge while travelling in Purushottam Express from New Delhi to Prayagraj on July 8, 2023. In a letter dated July 14, the registrar said that despite the train being delayed by more than three hours, the judge was not provided refreshments during the journey. Action has been demanded against officials related to the general manager of North Central Railway. 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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