While holding three persons guilty of contempt of court for making scandalous allegations against judges, the Supreme Court on Monday made certain observations on the boundaries that should be kept for criticizing a judgment.
The Court said that a citizen must have some standing or knowledge before questioning the capability or integrity of a judge of the highest court.
"No doubt, any citizen can comment or criticise the judgment of this Court. However, that citizen must have some standing or knowledge before challenging the ability, capability, knowledge, honesty, integrity, and impartiality of a Judge of the highest court of the land", observed a bench comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose.
The bench cautioned that criticism of a judgment should not amount to attributing motives to the judge, or questioning their competence.
"There can be no manner of doubt that any citizen of the country can criticise the judgments delivered by any Court including this Court. However, no party has the right to attribute motives to a Judge or to question the bona fides of the Judge or to raise questions with regard to the competence of the Judge".
"When any person whether he be a party to the proceedings or not criticizes a judgment of a court he could do so as long as that party does not level allegations of malafide, ulterior motives, extraneous reasons etc", the bench added.
The bench emphasized that no litigant has a right to attribute motives to a judge.
"No litigant has a right to attribute motives to a Judge. No litigant has a right to question the integrity of a Judge. No litigant has a right to even question the ability of a Judge. When the ability, integrity and dignity of the Judges are questioned, this is an attack on the institution. It is an attack on the majesty of law and lowers the impression of the Courts in the public eye".
Purpose of contempt power not to stifle fair criticism.
The purpose of having a law of contempt is not to prevent fair criticism but to ensure that the respect and confidence which the people of this country repose in the judicial system is not undermined in any manner whatsoever.
"The shoulders of this Court are broad enough to withstand criticism, even criticism which may transcend the parameters of fair criticism. However, if the criticism is made in a concerted manner to lower the majesty of the institution of the Courts and with a view to tarnish the image, not only of the Judges, but also the Courts, then if such attempts are not checked the results will be disastrous. Section 5 of the Contempt of Courts Act itself provides that publishing of any fair comment on the merits of any case which has been heard and finally decided does not amount to contempt".
The bench observed that by and large judges are reluctant to initiate contempt even when personal attacks are made; but when there is concerted attempt to slander the judiciary, the court cannot shut its eyes.
"By and large Judges are reluctant to take action under contempt laws when a personal attack is made on them. However, when there is a concerted attack by members of the Bar who profess to be the members of an organization having a large following, then the Court cannot shut its eyes to the slanderous and scandalous allegations made. If such allegations which have not only been communicated to the President of India and the Chief Justice of India, but also widely circulated on social media are permitted to remain unchallenged then the public will lose faith not only in those particular Judges but also in the entire justice delivery system and this definitely affects the majesty of law".
The Court reiterated that bona-fide criticism will not be contempt, but scandalizing will not be acceptable.
"Bonafide criticism of any institution including the judiciary is always welcome.
Healthy and constructive criticism of the judgments cannot amount to contempt of Court. However, if the allegations levelled go beyond the ambit of criticism and scandalise the Court then there can be no manner of doubt that such utterances or written words would amount to contempt of Court"
Case DetailsTitle : In Re Vijay Kurle and othersCase No : Suo Moto Contempt Petition (Criminal) No. 2 of 2019Bench : Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha BoseAppearances : Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra as amicus curiae
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