If there is a calculated effort to undermine the judiciary, the courts will exercise their jurisdiction to punish the offender for committing contempt, the bench said.
The Supreme Court in Het Ram Beniwal & Ors.Vs. Raghuveer Singh, has upheld a Rajasthan High Court order convicting two advocates who made serious allegations of corruption and bias against the high court.
Some communist party leaders, of which two were lawyers, were charged with criminal contempt for making scandalous statements against the high court in connection with granting of anticipatory bail to an accused in a murder case. The high court, observing that the scurrilous attack made by them against the judiciary lowers the authority of the court, held them guilty of committing criminal contempt and sentenced them to simple imprisonment of two months and fine of Rs. 2000 each.
Before the apex court, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, appeared for the contemnors and submitted that statements attributed to them only represent fair criticism, which would not amount to contempt. According to him, they were in an agitated mood due to the murder of one of their leaders and the mishandling of the criminal case connected to that murder and criticism of class bias and improper administration of justice cannot be considered to be contempt.
The apex court, rejecting such contentions, observed that they indulged in an assault on the integrity of the judges of the high court by making baseless and unsubstantiated allegations and cannot seek shelter under Section 5 of the Act.
“Every citizen has a fundamental right to speech, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Contempt of Court is one of the restrictions on such right. We are conscious that the power under the Act has to be exercised sparingly and not in a routine manner. If there is a calculated effort to undermine the judiciary, the courts will exercise their jurisdiction to punish the offender for committing contempt. We approve the findings recorded by the high court that the appellants have transgressed all decency by making serious allegations of corruption and bias against the high court. The caustic comments made by the appellants cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be termed as fair criticism.” The court, however, modified the sentence to payment of fine only.
Read the Judgment here.
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