Petition has been filed by senior journalists Krishna Prasad and N. Ram, former Minister Arun Shourie and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan
The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday ordered issue of notice to the Union government on a PIL petition, filed by four eminent personalities, challenging the constitutional validity of a provision of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, that makes “scandalising or tends to scandalising courts” as a ground for contempt.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum passed the order on the petitions filed by Krishna Prasad, senior journalist and former Editor of Outlook magazine, N. Ram, veteran journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, Arun Shourie, former Union Minister, and Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate.
All the four petitioners have narrated the proceedings faced by them under the Contempt of Courts Act at different point of time before the High Courts and the apex court.
Three of the petitioners, Mr. Ram, Mr. Shourie and Mr. Bhushan, had filed a similar petition before the Supreme Court, which in August last year had permitted them to withdraw the petition by giving them liberty to move a High Court.
The petitioners have contended in their present petition that Section 2(c)(i) of the Act violates the right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and does not amount to a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).
The Section 2(c)(i) fails the test of overbreadth, abridges the right to free speech and expression in the absence of tangible and proximate harm, and it creates a chilling effect on free speech and expression, it has been contended in the petition filed through advocate Maitreyi Krishnan.
The offence of “scandalising the court” cannot be considered to be covered under the category of “contempt of court” under Article 19(2), the petitioners have contended while claiming that even if Section 2(c)(i) were permissible under the ground of contempt in Article 19(2), it would be disproportionate and therefore unreasonable.
“The offence of ‘scandalising the court’ is rooted in colonial assumptions and objects, which have no place in legal orders committed to democratic constitutionalism and the maintenance of an open robust public sphere,” it has been contended in the petition.
Though the petitioners have not challenged the constitutional validity of Section 2(c) (ii) and Section 2(c)(iii) of the Act, they have contended that rules and guidelines must be framed defining the process that superior courts must employ while taking criminal contempt action, keeping in mind principles of natural justice and fairness.
In the contempt jurisdiction, the petitioners have contended, the judges may often be seen to be acting in their own cause, thus violating the principles of natural justice and adversely affecting the public confidence they seek to preserve through the proceeding; and the bench taking suo motu action on behalf of the Court as a whole, initiates it without the concurrence of the Full Court.
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