Judicial Reforms

Mulgaonkar principles in Contempt Cases

In the criticism against the Supreme Court’s ruling that held advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court, his counsel has invoked the ‘Mulgaonkar Principles’, urging the court to show restraint.

Try this MCQ:

Q. The Mulgaonkar principles recently seen in news are related to:

Diplomacy/ Economy/ Judiciary/ Environment

The Mulgaonkar principles

  • S Mulgaonkar v Unknown (1978) is a case that led to a landmark ruling on the subject of contempt.
  • By a 2:1 majority, the court held Mulgaonkar not guilty of contempt although the same Bench had initiated the proceedings.
  • Justices P Kailasam and Krishna Iyer formed the majority going against then CJI M H Beg.
  • Justice Iyer’s counsel of caution in exercising the contempt jurisdiction came to be called the Mulgaonkar principles.

What was the case about?

  • An article by A G Noorani in the newspaper about certain judicial decisions during the Emergency period, especially the Habeas Corpus case, had displeased then CJI Beg.
  • The Habeas Corpus case, often referred to as the “Supreme Court’s darkest hour” upheld the detention law, citing that even the right to life can be suspended during an emergency.
  • Justices A N Ray, Beg, Y V Chandrachud and P N Bhagwati formed the majority while Justice H R Khanna was the sole dissenter.

What did the ruling say?

  • The first rule in the branch of power is a “wise economy of use by the Court of this branch of its jurisdiction”.
  • The Court will act with seriousness and severity where justice is jeopardized by a gross and/or unfounded attack on the judges, where the attack is calculated to obstruct or destroy the judicial process.
  • The court is willing to ignore, by a majestic liberalism, trifling and venial offenses-the dogs may bark, the caravan will pass.
  • The court will not be prompted to act as a result of an easy irritability.


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