If males, together with judges and journalists, had been angels, there can be no issues of contempt of courtroom. Angelic judges can be undisturbed by extraneous influences and angelic journalists wouldn’t search to affect them,’ mentioned Justice Frankfurter of the US Supreme Court in Pennekamp versus Florida (1946). Seventy-four years on, the prophetic phrases are extra related in India, the place judges typically invoke the facility of contempt to cope with these ‘scandalising’ the judiciary. The Supreme Court’s choice to provoke contempt proceedings in opposition to activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan solely highlights the issue.
The rationale behind the facility of contempt is to safeguard the pursuits of the frequent man, who can be adversely affected if the courtroom’s authority is undermined and public confidence within the judiciary is eroded. It is no one’s case that the facility of contempt vested within the Supreme Court and excessive courts underneath Articles 129 and 215 of the Constitution, respectively, and the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, must be completed away with. Those interfering with the due course of judicial proceedings or obstructing the administration of justice have to be taken to job. The actual downside is about Section 2(c)(i) of the Act: publication of something — in any method in any way — which ‘scandalises or tends to scandalise or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court’. It is that this provision which has been challenged by famous journalists N Ram and Arun Shourie, and Bhushan earlier than the Supreme Court for being imprecise, manifestly arbitrary and violative of the fitting to free speech underneath Article 19(1)(a).
The energy of contempt will not be meant to guard judges or the judiciary from criticism in a democracy, the place each particular person and establishment vested with public perform will be subjected to public scrutiny. To quote Justice Frankfurter once more, ‘The power to punish for contempt is a safeguard not for judges as persons, but for the function which they exercise.’ Unless the act in query is such that it erodes public religion within the judiciary, it shouldn’t be categorised as legal contempt. It’s time to have a relook on the definition of ‘criminal contempt’ to make it appropriate with democratic norms.