A free people are the ultimate guarantors of fearless justice. Such is the cornerstone of our constitution; such is the touchstone of contempt power, oriented on the confluence of free speech and fair justice which is the scriptural essence of our Fundamental Law. Speaking of the social philosophy and philosophy of law in an integrated manner as applicable to contempt of court, there is no conceptual polarity but a delicate balance, and judicial ‘sapience’ draws the line.

A special CBI court on Wednesday served contempt notices to senior leaders of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress for criticising the 23 December conviction of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav in a fodder scam case on television. CBI judge Shiv Pal Singh directed senior RJD leaders Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Shivanand Tiwari and Lalu Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav and Congress leader Manish Tewari to personally appear before the court on 23 January.

So What Is Contempt Of Court And Where It Is In The Book Of Law?

In India contempt of court is of two types:

Civil contempt: Under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

Criminal contempt: Under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined as 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:

Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or

Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

In Re. Roshan Lal Ahuja, a three judge bench held, judgments of the court are open to criticism. Judges and courts are not unduly sensitive or touchy to fair and reasonable criticism of their judgments. But no litigants can be can be permitted to oversteps the limits of fair, bonafide and reasonable criticism of a judgment and bring the courts generally in disrepute or attributes motives to the judges rendering the judgment.

Liberty of free expression is not to be confused with a license to make unfound, unwarranted and irresponsible aspersions against the Judges or courts in relation to judicial matter. No system of justice can tolerate such an unbridled license. Of course, “Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men”, but the members of the public have to abstain from imputing improper motives those taking part in the administration of justice  and exercise their right of free criticism without malice or in anyway attempting to impair to administration of justice and refrain from making any comment which tends to scandalize the court in relation to judicial matters.

In In re. S. Mulgaokar, a three judge bench held, the judiciary is not immune from criticism but when that criticism is based on obvious distortion or gross misstatement and made in a manner which is designed to lower the respect of the judiciary and destroy public confidence in it, it cannot be ignored.

Political philosophers and historians have taught us that intellectual advances made by our civilization would have been, impossible without freedom of speech and expression. Never has criticism been more necessary than today, when the weapons of propaganda are so strong and so subtle. But like other liberties this also must be limited.


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