Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Contempt of Court:

GS Paper 2:

Syllabus: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.

 

Context:

The Supreme Court has threatened to initiate contempt proceedings against the chief secretary of Telangana if the state government failed to deposit a cost of ₹2.5 lakh within two weeks.

 

What’s the issue?

  • The cost was imposed by the apex court in an April 2020 judgment striking down a law passed by the unified Andhra Pradesh government reserving 100% teacher posts for local scheduled tribes in schools situated in their areas within the state.
  • The Telangana government had delayed paying its share of the cost as the top court in its judgment of April 22, 2020 apportioned the cost of ₹5 lakh to be paid equally by the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

 

What is Contempt?

While the basic idea of a contempt law is to punish those who do not respect the orders of the courts, in the Indian context, contempt is also used to punish speech that lowers the dignity of the court and interferes with the administration of justice.

 

Contempt of court can be of two kinds:

  1. Civil, that is the willful disobedience of a court order or judgment or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
  2. Criminal, that is written or spoken words or any act that scandalises the court or lowers its authority or prejudices or interferes with the due course of a judicial proceeding or interferes/obstructs the administration of justice.

 

Relevant provisions:

  • Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt.
  • Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 defines the power of the High Court to punish contempts of its subordinate courts.
  • The Constitution also includes contempt of court as a reasonable restriction to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, along with elements like public order and defamation.

 

Why courts need contempt powers?

  • To ensure their orders are implemented.
  • To sustain the independent nature of the judiciary itself.
    • While the judiciary issues orders, they are implemented by the government or private parties. If the courts are unable to enforce their orders, then the rule of law itself will come to grinding halt.

 

Issues with Contempt Law:

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution gives the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens, while “contempt provisions” curb people’s freedom to speak against the court’s functioning.

The law is very subjective which might be used by the judiciary arbitrarily to suppress their criticism by the public.

 

Analysis of Bhushan’s case:

The suo motu contempt proceedings initiated by a bench of the Supreme Court against Mr. Bhushan constitutes an abuse of the court’s contempt jurisdiction, which—for good reason—is to be exercised sparingly and with circumspection.

It is because, according to some experts, there is nothing in Mr. Bhushan’s tweets that qualify as contempt of Court.

  • His tweets are an exercise of his fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) to freely express himself by way of comment and criticism on the conduct of the CJI as a private citizen.
  • Also, these tweets in question appear to be in the realm of perception and comment and don’t seem to have transgressed into contempt. The general principle on contempt is that one can criticise a judgment but you can’t attribute motives to the judge.

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Powers of SC vs HCs wrt Contempt cases.
  2. Constitutional provisions in this regard.
  3. Changes brought about by Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006.

Mains Link:

Discuss how contempt cases are handled by Supreme Court in India.

 

Q. 1) Consider the following statements:

  1. Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt.
  2. Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 defines the power of the High Court to punish contempts of its subordinate courts.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

  1. 1 only.
  2. 2 only.
  3. Both.
  4. None.

Sources: the Hindu