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Contempt Of Court Through A Case Analysis

The Supreme Court in 2010 case of Hari Singh Nagra and others v Kapil Sibal[1] and other mentioned the idea of fair and reasonable criticism with the respect of contempt proceeding. The criticism of the judiciary must be strictly rational and sober and should proceed from the highest motives without being coloured from any partisan tactics. However, to criticise judiciary fairly is no crime but a necessary right.

The Supreme Court shall be the court of record and shall have the power to penalise for contempt of court, as stated in Article 129. Article 215 confers on the High Court the power to punish for contempt itself. Maintaining the legitimacy of the courts is the main objective of punishing contempt for interfering with the administration of justice so that society can function in peace. The goal is not to uphold or defend the dignity of the magistrate or judge.

Attacking the court's presiding officers with the aim to prevent them from carrying out their duties, whether inside or outside of the courtroom, would be criminal contempt, and the courts would need to take such behaviour very severely.

Mehfil-e-wukala, started in 1986 is a small group of poet advocates practising in the Supreme Court. In 1992�1993, the Mehfil made the decision to host an annual event and invite more Supreme Court and Delhi High Court judges. They made the decision to publish the memento, which was written by honourable judges and prominent members of the bar and featured a concise account of the Mehfil's events.

In the year 1994-95, an annual function happened, and various dignitaries contributed in the souvenir, and Mr. Kapil Sibal was one such. In his message, he expressed the plight of junior members of the bar and about the failing standard of the legal fraternity. The souvenir was circulated among its members.

Initially the message did not invite any controversy, however, when Mr. Kapil Sibal decided to run for the President of Supreme Court Bar Association, the controversy arises. Further, Sunday Times of India Daily, in 1995 published an excerpt from his message titled "Sibal's remarks stir row in legal circles", which suggested that Mr. Sibal had made an attack on judiciary.

In response to this, petitioner 1 and 5 alleged that Mr.Sibal had attempted contempt of court by attacking on judiciary and he conspired with Respondent 2 and 3 to bring the administration of justice to disrespect. A petition was instituted under Article 215 in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. The said case was transferred to the Supreme Court and Respondent no 4 and 5 (editors of the Mehfil) requested for it.

The petitioners received multiple notices following the transfer of the case, but they didn't answer to any of them and didn't participate in the court's proceedings. Yet, it is widely accepted that the court and the putative contemnor are the only parties involved in a contempt of court case. The case has been pending in court since 1997.

An excerpt from Mr. Sibal's message was published by the Times of India, hence a fair analysis of his message has to be done. The message stated:
"The legal profession's general perception is at its lowest point. These declining standards have been attributed to a number of factors, including a large influx of new people into the profession, a decline in the moral character of the legal community, doubts about the integrity of some members of the judiciary, and the high cost of entering the profession and maintaining oneself. Despite the aforementioned, there is some promise for the average person in the judiciary.

Even though they are tainted, the people who adorn this establishment still have some credibility. In order to improve the reputation of the legal community, we must all work together. Before we criticise others, let's examine our own hearts."

In the present petition the issue was whether the petitioners had provided sufficient evidence to declare the defendants in contempt.

The Court did not consider it to be a fit case where proceeding for contempt can be drawn and petition has to be dismissed.

A fair reading of respondent No. 1's message makes it clear that the sending and/or publication of the message in the Mehfil (Literary Association) souvenir did not scandalise or tend to scandalise, lower, or tend to lower the authority of any court, prejudice, interfere or tend to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceedings, interfere or tend to interfere with, or obstructed or tend to obstruct, the administration of justice. A fair reading of Respondent 1's message shows that sending and/or posting the message on Mehfil (Literary Society) memorabilia did not tend to cause scandal or undermine or undermine the authority of the Court.

Prejudice, obstruct or obstruct the orderly conduct of legal proceedings, obstruct or tend to obstruct the enforcement of justice, or obstruct or tend to obstruct the enforcement of justice.

Before proceeding with the case, it is important to understand that social judges have no questions to answer and their accountability must be assessed in the light of their conscience and oath of office. Any criticism of the legal system or the judiciary that undermines or jeopardizes the administration of justice should be avoided.

This approach leads to ignorance of due process. Criticism of the judiciary must, therefore, be perfectly rational, dispassionate, and motivated by the best of intentions, untainted by partisanship and technology as national interest's demand.

There is no doubt that freedom of expression is available to the press under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and that it is not a crime but a vital right to criticize decisions harshly and appropriately. Contempt is not implied by an honest and reasonable criticism of a judge's official decisions or acts in relation to the administration of justice. No one, let alone a judge, can claim infallibility, so we need to encourage such fair and reasonable criticism.

The case was based on contempt of court proceeding and it distinguished between the fair, rational and sober criticism of the judiciary and scandalising the judiciary. If we analyse the message of Mr. Kapil Sibal, we will come to the conclusion that he was concerned about the legal fraternity and was worried about the junior bar members and wanted to protect their rights. It nowhere targets any particular judge. He wanted all concerned members to unite and protect the legal fraternity.

In my opinion, the judgment of the Apex Court was just, as Mr. Kapil Sibal did not try to scandalise the court but rather presented a fair criticism which is not a crime but rather his right. Moreover, he published this message for the souvenir of Mehfil, which was not meant for the general public but rather the members of the Bar who were practising lawyers of the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court.

Mr. Sibal exercised his freedom of speech and expressed his concern and opinion in a rather rational and sober manner. I would also like to point at the fact, that the Times of India published an excerpt from his message which led to a controversy, which further leads to a petition file in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. The message must have been interpreted incorrectly.

Mr. Sibal did not want to incite hatred or any feeling of contempt towards the judiciary, rather his main focus was towards the betterment of the legal system.

  1. Hari Singh Nagra v. Kapil Sibal, (2010) 7 SCC 502

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