Judicial Reforms

Issues with contempt of court

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Contempt of court

Mains level : Paper 2- Contempt of court and issues

The article discusses the issues that law for contempt of the court give rise to. The practice has monarchical origins. Its continuance conflicts with the ideals of democracy. 

Objective

  • The objective for contempt is stated to be to safeguard the interests of the public if the authority of the Court is denigrated and public confidence in the administration of justice is weakened or eroded.
  •  Need to “respect the authority and dignity of the court” has monarchical origins.

Issues in India

  • With adjudicatory role having been handed over to judges, showing extreme deference to judges does not sit well with the idea of a democracy.
  • But the definition of criminal contempt in India is extremely wide, and can be easily invoked.
  •  Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer famously termed the law of contempt as having a vague and wandering jurisdiction, contempt law may unwittingly trample upon civil liberties.
  • Criminal contempt is completely asynchronous with our democratic system which recognises freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right.
  • Excessively loose use of the test of ‘loss of public confidence’, combined with a liberal exercise of suo motu powers, can be dangerous.
  •  It can amount to the Court signalling that it will not suffer any kind of critical commentary about the institution at all.

Lessons from other democracies

  • Contempt has practically become obsolete in foreign democracies.
  • Canada ties its test for contempt to real, substantial and immediate dangers to the administration.
  • American courts also no longer use the law of contempt in response to comments on judges or legal matters.
  • In England, too, the legal position has evolved.

Approach of Indian judiciary

  • Truth and good faith were not recognised as valid defences until 2006, when the Contempt of Courts Act was amended.
  • Indian courts have not been inclined to display the same maturity and unruffled spirit as their peers in the other democracies.

Consider the question  “A law for criminal contempt is completely asynchronous with our democratic system which recognises freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right. Examine the issue in India context and suggest the major to strike the balance.”

Conclusion

Besides needing to revisit the need for a law on criminal contempt, even the test for contempt needs to be evaluated. If such a test ought to exist at all, it should be whether the contemptuous remarks in question actually obstruct the Court from functioning. It should not be allowed to be used as a means to prevent any and all criticism of an institution.

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