“Judiciary must be open to criticism. Contempt is the last resort and weapon. This is my personal opinion. Because precious judicial time is wasted on contempt hearings and important matters and question of law cannot get heard,” – Justice Shinde
On 16 December Justice SS Shinde of the Bombay Highcourt had said the above statement insisting on the need for the judiciary to be open to criticism from the public, and to allow for the hearing of other cases instead of contempt hearings which seem to be a waste of time.
The statement was said while hearing a plea by Sunaina Holey, who was accused of passing objectionable comments and posting a morphed picture of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Cabinet Minister Aaditya Thackeray on social media.
The remarks were made in the context of the arguments advanced by Dr. Abhinav Chandrachud who had made a few statements on the case of Freedom of Speech and Expression.
Justice Shinde also made a subtle remark over the Kunal Kamra case by stating that thanks to such cases the comments were receiving more attention than it usually would have.
Contempt Hearings: Another Crackdown on Dissent
The contempt of court has been increasingly used by the government in order to crack down on those who criticize the government or judiciary.
The use of this act for targeting free speech has become increasingly famous after activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan was convicted for the same. However, he was let go with a bail of Re.1.
On December 1st, Attorney General KK Venugopal had also granted a Law Student consent to initiate contempt of court proceedings against Sanitary Panels Artist Rachita Taneja for her tweets against the judiciary, accusing it of being biased towards the current ruling party.
What is Contempt of Court?
According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, falls broadly into two types- Civil contempt or Criminal Contempt.
Civil contempt means wilful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court, or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
Criminal contempt, on the other hand, is attracted by the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, 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.
It may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both, provided that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.