Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Tweets against CJI amounts to Criminal Contempt


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Contempt of Court and its types

Mains level: Contempt of Court and associated issues

A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court has found a famous civil rights lawyer guilty of criminal contempt by ‘scandalizing the court’.

Try this question for mains:

Q.What is Contempt of Court? Discuss, how free speech can lead to the contempt of courts?

Contempt of Court

  • According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt.
  • Civil contempt means willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or another process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
  • On the other hand, criminal contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which
  1. Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
  2. Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
  3. Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

What did the court rule in this case?

  • The tweets had the effect of attempting to destabilize Indian democracy.
  • A defamatory publication concerning “the judge is a serious impediment to justice”.
  • The court could not ignore the disrespect and disaffection created by the “scurrilous” tweets.
  • If such an attack is not dealt with a requisite degree of firmness, it may affect the national honour and prestige in the comity of nations.

A suo motu action

  • The prior consent of the Attorney General (AG) of India is not required to suo motu initiate the inherent contempt powers of the Supreme Court.
  • The Contempt of Court Act of 1971 cannot limit this power of the court. The statute only provides the procedure in which such contempt is to be initiated.
  • The suo motu contempt powers of the top court are drawn from Article 129 of the Constitution, which says the Supreme Court, as a court of record, has the power to punish for contempt of itself.

What would be the penalty?

  • The Contempt of Court Act of 1971 punishes with imprisonment that may extend to six months or fine of ₹ 2,000 or both.
  • This is provided in case the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.

Also read:

Explained: What is Contempt of Court?

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