In this post we will discuss about a petition in Karnataka High Court challenging the validity of Section 2(c)(i) of Contempt of Courts Act.

Karnataka HC sends notice to law min on validity of contempt Act 

  In a significant development, the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday sought the response of the Central government in a petition challenging the validity of Section 2(c)(i) of Contempt of Courts Act, which criminalises publication of any matter which could scandalize or lower the authority of the courts.

The petition filed by journalist Krishna Prasad, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Hindu Group Director and journalist N Ram and former Union Minister Arun Shourie has assailed the provision on the ground that it has a chilling effect on the right to freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Constitution.

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LAWS CONCERNED

The petition contended that the Section violates the right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and does not amount to a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).

The petitioners said that even under Article 19(2), it would be disproportionate and 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,” the petition said.

The petitioners stated that guidelines and rules must be framed in regards to Section 2(c) of the Act as a whole.

“These Guidelines and Rules must be framed so as to avoid the violation of principles of natural justice as well as arbitrary exercise of power by individual judges,” the petition said.

Other provisions

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.

The Contempt of Courts Act provides for two kinds of contempt – civil contempt and criminal contempt.

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Civil contempt is defined under Section 2(b) as wilful disobedience to any judgment, order or direction, of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

Section 2(c) deals with criminal contempt and deals with publication of any material or commission of any act against courts.

This provision has three sub-clauses which explain when such a publication or act could amount to criminal contempt.

First, if such publication or act scandalises or lowers the authority of any court (sub –clause i),

second, if it prejudices or interferes with any judicial proceeding (sub-clause ii) and third, if it interferes with or obstructs the administration of justice (sub-clause iii).

The petitioners have challenged only sub-clause (i) which criminalises any publication or act on the ground that it scandalizes or lowers the authority of the court.

A division bench headed by Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka also ordered notice to the Attorney General of India as constitutional validity of a central legislation is challenged.

Three of the present petitioners – Ram, Shourie and Bhushan – had approached the Supreme Court in August 2020 challenging the very Section. The Supreme Court disposed of the petition with a liberty, as sought by the petitioners, to approach the High Court.

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This post is written by Manvi Geed.

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