Heavy-handed order: on contempt law
Mains Paper 1: Polity
Prelims level: Contempt Law
Mains level: Basic structure of Indian Constitution
- The Meghalaya High Court’s order finding the guilty of contempt,
and asking them to “sit in a corner” till the rising of the court and
imposing a fine of ₹2 lakh each.
- It is a heavy-handed response to comments in the newspaper on the
court’s earlier orders.
- What makes the order even more unfortunate is the explicit threat
to ban the newspaper and jail them if they fail to pay the fine.
- While courts are indeed empowered to decide whether a publication
scandalised or tended to scandalise the judiciary or interfered with the
administration of justice, there is no legal provision for an outright ban
- The origin of these contempt proceedings appears to be the State
government’s unilateral decision to withdraw certain facilities to retired
judges without consulting the court administration.
- After the matter was not resolved on the administrative side for
two months, the court initiated suo motu proceedings and issued some
- It was because of a news item, accompanied by a commentary on the
court’s directions, that the contemnors had incurred the court’s
- The offending comments appeared to imply that the directions
regarding extending facilities, including protocol services and domestic
help, and reimbursing communication bills up to ₹10,000 a month and a mobile
phone worth ₹80,000, to retired judges amounted to “judges judging for
- It is a moot question whether the court ought to have taken
umbrage at this remark or ignored it. It would serve the cause of preserving
the dignity of the higher judiciary if overzealous comments made by
activists or journalists were ignored.
- In 1999, the Supreme Court had brushed aside some adverse remarks
by activists by saying, “the court’s shoulders are broad enough to shrug off
- The defence argued the court should frame specific charges before
convicting them for contempt.
- It is open to the court to try a case of contempt in a summary
manner, the use of personalised views of the publication’s past record to
hand down the verdict puts a question mark over the decision-making process.
- While there may be a need to curb tendentious criticism of the
judiciary and self-serving comments on ongoing proceedings in mainstream and
- There is a compelling case to use the contempt law sparingly, and
avoid the impression that it is being used to stifle free speech or dissent.
- Lenience, not anger, ought to be the primary response of a
Q.1) The chairman and members of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
are appointed by the president on the recommendations of a six-member committee.
The committee does NOT include
a) Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha
b) Union Home Minister
c) Leaders of the Opposition in both the Houses of Parliament
d) Chief Justice of India
Q.1) The contempt law must not be used, or seen to be used, to stifle
dissenting views. Comment.