The judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Prashant Bhushan & An-other holding Mr Bhushan guilty of “criminal contempt”, a watershed moment as some would opine, has triggered a wide debate on whether the judgment was indeed correct or rather harsh. One would argue that the Hon’ble Supreme Court held Mr Bhushan guilty of contempt on the basis that his tweets were on the basis of “distorted” facts. I wonder if the conclusion would have been different if the facts were indeed “true” or perceived to be “true”. In which case, on the assumption that the facts were “true”, would his tweet still fall within the realm of “criminal contempt”. On a bare reading of Contempt of Court Act, 1971 one would still argue that even a tweet based on “true” facts would still qualify as “criminal contempt”.
This, in my view, is rather strange and calls for immediate attention, as a strong justice delivery system indeed requires a noetic relook at the law of contempt guided by a constellation of emerging constitutional and other consideration. For instance, recently, a 9-Bench judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of KS Puttaswamy and Another (2017) 10 SCC 1 has held that the right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and part of the freedoms guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the said case consequently overruled its earlier decisions in the case of MP Sharma AIR 1954 SC 300 and Kharak Singh AIR 1963 SC 1295 which inter-alia held that the right to privacy is not protected by the Constitution of India.
What the law states?
Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 defines 'Criminal Contempt' to mean- the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which: (i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or (ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or (iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
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September - October 2020