Should the Judiciary move past its contempt?

India Dec 25, 2020

Recently the apex court of the country has been in the talks due to its alleged contempt. The court has issued notices against comedian Kunal Kamra and comic illustrator Rachita Taneja over their posts and comments on social media which allegedly scandalise the Supreme Court of India.

Contempt of court is an offence of disobeying the order of the court or doing actions that malign/impugn the court. There are 2 types of contempt - Civil and Criminal.The Contempt Of Courts Act, 1971defines them as follows :

  • Civil contempt is the wilful disobedience to any judgment or order of the court.
  • Criminal contempt means the publication of any matter or the doing of any other act which scandalises or interferes within the due course of any judicial proceeding or obstructs the administration of justice.

The notices issued fall under the offence of criminal contempt. Attorney General KK Venugopal had granted permissions u/s 15(1) (b) of the Contempt Of Courts Act to initiate criminal contempt. The petitioners contend that Kamra and Taneja have maligned the apex court of the country and such actions question the integrity of the court and mislead millions of followers. The petitioners also claimed (in separate petitions) that their(Kamra and Taneja’s) actions have shaken the public trust and confidence in the judicial system. Comedian Kunal Kamra has stated that he doesn't intend to retract or apologise for his tweets. Criminal contempt of court is punishable with a fine up to Rs. 2000 and/or imprisonment up to 6 months.

The constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression has certain reasonable restrictions. Contempt of the court is one such restriction. Can questioning the highest court of the land in an unconstructive way and maligning the character of the judges or the court itself be ignored and taken lightly? To prove a contempt it is necessary to prove that the accused has not acted in good faith and his/her acts have caused the obstruction of justice.

Former Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi in an interview to The Wire said, the tweets are “definitely not contempt, but satire”. He cleared that contempt in his eyes is when it becomes impossible for a court to function. He further added, “In India, we are not ripe or mature enough to abolish the law of contempt.” England, from whom India borrowed the idea of Contempt of court, seldom uses it. British judge Lord Denning had observed that the judges in a way have a personal interest in the contempt and this goes against the legal principle of ‘ no one shall be a judge in his own case ‘. In the Spycatcher case, the English newspaper Daily Mirror had called 3 judges ‘You Old Fools’ which was not considered as contempt by the court. Courts in various other countries like America, Canada and Australia are open to criticism by the public and hardly initiate criminal contempt of court.

The question over here arises that should such actions be neglected and not be given any importance as the court is higher than such trivial satire? Or should such actions that attempt to shudder the public confidence in one of the pillars of democracy and ultimately attack the democracy be penalised?

This article has been written by Manasi Barve for The Paradigm

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