Contempt of Court and right of free expression in India.

Contempt of Court and right of free expression in India.

Author: – Deepansh Shukla

In 1947, after a bloody partition, India earned its independence finally on August,15th. Indian Constitutional makers took ‘two years, eleven months, and seventeen days’ to present us with a lengthy constitution that has guided India for the last 70 years and will guide India in its bright future.

British rule in India oppressed the Indian’s irrespective of their religion, caste, and gender. Indians were not to yield any freedom of speech or expression. Remembering the past ‘Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression’ was provided as one of the six fundamental rights under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Right to freedom of speech and expression was not absolute in lieu came with some constraints, one of them being ‘contempt of court’. Contempt of court is defined, under section 2c of ‘The Contempt of Court Act, 1971’. Which talks about its powers and limitations. 

1Article 129 of the Indian constitution has bestowed the Supreme Court the authority to wield/ avail the contempt of court. Whereas, Article 215 authorizes the same power to the High Courts of India. Contempt of court is not kosher expounded, under the constitution of India however, has been divided, as Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt which prescribes different punishments. A person is charged with Civil Contempt if they will 2disobey, a judgment, writ, decree, direction, or order issued by the court. Whereas, Criminal Contempt is defined, as scandalizing to lower the authority of the court by any means. It is elucidated, as any act which interferes with the judicial process of the courts. Also, any conduct which obstructs the process to administer justice. A punishment which will be given, for contempt is a six months jail or a fine up to rupees 2,000, in some cases if needed both can be imposed.

A recent Contempt of court case is of Mr. Prashant Bhusan who made a series of tweets criticizing the court, in one of his tweets, he talked about CJI, Sharad Bobde sitting on an expensive bike while wearing no mask. Further in the tweet, he added that in the period of COVID-19, the court has been selective in hearing the cases. For his tweets, he was charged with contempt of court and was plead guilty by the Supreme Court Bench. Rupee 1, a fine was imposed by the court failing to deposit which, he would be sentenced, to a jail period. He pleaded guilty to scandalizing the court. Learned Counsel for Mr. Prashant Bhusan in his protection said, ‘The mere criticism of the court does not amount to contempt of court’ as observed in the case of PN Dua V. Shiv Shankar and Ors. Countering which the court said mere criticism work unless they tend to hamper the administration of justice. In the case of DC Saxena court ruled, it does not constitute contempt even if it slightly oversteps the limit.

A senior advocate held in High Esteem by many pleaded guilty, as he overstepped a boundary, the question is, was the punishment justifiable? If the same tweets were commented, by a common man, the ruling in the 3DC Saxena case, should have been considered. But, when it comes to a learned advocate, he/she is responsible for the masses hence should make it a point not to overstep a boundary even if the emotions overpower. In my opinion, even if one has an err towards the judiciary. It should be expressed, in a way that is justified. After all, it is the system that is responsible for providing justice to millions.

In India, many are of a view that ‘Contempt of Court’ is a violation of their fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. They believe that when a decision affects them equally, they are entitled to speak up on the topic. Not just empowered to speak but criticize the court if they do not opine with the judgment. Hence, they can say whatever they believe in without censoring the words. Are they wrong in speaking up for a topic? As of my opinion even if any decision does not affect you, one can speak upon it, for instance, we Indians talk about US voting polls. But, as the courts are an authority, they deserve a sense of respect as it lies in their hands to dispose of millions of cases a year. 

As of the year 2020, A whopping 3.5 crore cases are pending over. Out of which 96,993 are Civil and, 583 are Criminal Contempt of Court cases. Is it worth hearing the contempt of court of cases, when so many other matters are pending before the honourable court? Unless the exposition is of national emergency, I do not think the civil matters, of contempt of cases, are worth the long judicial proceedings. For these cases, a fast court should be established, which has the maximum tenure of three months to dispose of litigation of civil nature. And six months for criminal contempt of court case. Only under some exceptions, the hearing can be delayed, by the court. If so many cases of contempt of court, remain pending, the trust of the people, that they have a right to freedom of speech and expression will go in vain. A common man will then perceive the judiciary to be anarchic, imposing the decisions on the people rather than involving their interest in the decisions taken.

Citation

  1. K. Venkataraman, What is Contempt of Court?, TheHindu (August, 02,2020, 00:54 AM), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-hindu-explains-what-is-contempt-of-court/article32249810.ece
  2. Ujjaini Chatterjee, Contempt, Dignity and fair criticism: What do they mean to courts?, The leaflet (August,18, 2018),  https://www.theleaflet.in/contempt-dignity-and-fair-criticism-what-do-they-mean-to-courts/#
  3. Vanshaj Jain, 280-character is all it takes to destroy Indian Democracy- If you believe Supreme Court, Theprint (August, 17, 2020, 8:30 PM), https://theprint.in/opinion/280-character-tweet-destroy-indian-democracy-supreme-court/482964/

Source- Ipleadersblog.com

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