One can exercise the right of Free speech and expression, but it does not give
the right to scandalise the Court. With increasing internet connectivity, there
has been an exponential growth in the total number of Social media usage.
Twitter being one of such social media websites, has a huge user base. There
are 18.9 million Indian users on Twitter. Due to its limited character policy,
any posts published are targeted and focused.
Political figures, Journalists, and other influencers tend to give an opinion on
Twitter. Several institutions are scrutinized and are made subject to various
opinions thereto. Indian Courts are also subjected to such scrutinization and
commentary. The author in the present article is focussing on such focussed and
targeted opinions made for Courts and analyze, if it could lead to Contempt of
Contempt Law in India
In India, The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (hereinafter referred to as Act)
provides for the Courtís power to punish the contemptuous and regulate
procedures in such relation. The Act classifies the contemptuous act as Civil
Contempt and Criminal Contempt.
The Act defines Civil Contempt as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree,
direction, order, writ, or other processes of a court or wilful breach of an
undertaking given to a court. The purview of a Tweet amounting to Civil contempt
is restricted to only those situations where there has been a wilful
disobedience to any Judgement, decree, direction, order, writ or other such
process. For illustration, if Court rules an injunction order against a person;
restricting him to tweet certain matter. Contrary to the order, if such a person
tweets, it will amount to Civil Contempt.
The Act defines Criminal Contempt as the publication (whether by word, spoken or
written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter
or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
From the above-given definition, the following essentials could be deduced:
- Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the
authority of, any court, or
- Prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of
any judicial proceeding, or
- Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstruct or tends to obstruct,
the administration of justice in any other manner.
Initiating the Contempt proceeding
- It should be published
- Scandalization or lowering the authority of the Court
- Such publication prejudice or interfere with the due course of any Judicial
- Interferes with the Administration of Justice
In India, a contempt proceeding could be initiated by following manners:
- Suo-motto proceeding initiated by the Court itself.
- Proceeding initiated by the Attorney General itself.
- Any person initiating the proceeding after the permission of the Attorney
- Any law officer in relation to the Union Territory as specified by the Central
As can be deduced, there are restrictions to file for the Contempt proceeding by
any private person. These restrictions are put to save Courtís time from any
Twitter post amounting to Contempt
In past, the Supreme Court had set aside one order of Punjab and Haryana High
Court, where the High Court convicted an advocate for one month's simple
imprisonment for being critical at a High Court Judge on Facebook. The bench was
headed by Justice Katju. Contrastingly, Justice Katju, after retiring, was tried
for Contempt of Court for his blogpost criticizing the Supreme Court Judges. The
said bench was headed by Justice Gogoi. It suggests that an online platform can
be considered as a proper medium through which the act of Contempt of Court can
Recently, the Supreme Court has recognized Social Media publication in the
context of Contempt, which is inclusive of Twitter as well. Twitter publishes
the content with the maximum character limit of 280. Any post made within the
limit of 280 words, which scandalizes or lowers the authority of Court; or
prejudice the due course of Judicial Proceeding; or interferes with the
Administration of Justice will amount to Contempt of Court.
In Re Prashant Bhushan and Ors.
Supreme Court, held Advocate Prashant Bhushan
liable for the tweet he made in regards to the Supreme Court and the Chief
Justice of India. Recently, an incident surfaced where, a stand-up comedian
named Kunal Kamra, made several tweets in regards to the Supreme Court. Several
Law students and advocates approached the Supreme Court to initiate a Contempt
proceeding against Kunal Kamra. Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal received
multiple letters to permit the petitioners to initiate the contempt proceeding,
the majority of which he permits.
Recently, one of a webcomic creators Rachita
Taneja had been served with the contempt proceeding for her tweet, where she
depicted Supreme Court as biased toward the Journalist Arnab Goswami. The court
is yet to decide if such posting has scandalized the Institution.
In the United Kingdom, publicly commenting on a Court case on Social Media which
could influence a Court case or interferes in the fair trial would lead
to Contempt of the Court. Domini Griever, former attorney General of the United
Kingdom, warned that publicly tweeting any opinion on Courts that satisfies the
ingredient of Contempt; will lead to Contempt of Court. A Tweet made by
billionaire Elon Musk once led to a Contempt proceeding against him, however,
Court didnít put charges on him. Finally, it could fairly be concluded that a
Tweet if satisfies the ingredient of Contempt; will lead to Contempt of Court.
Increasing internet connectivity and social media usage has a positive
correlation. Twitter as a platform is used to convey targeted opinion. Courts
often are subjected to numerous opinions. However, there is a difference between
positive criticism and scandalizing of the Court. There are certain ingredients
to be satisfied to conclude an act as a Contempt of Court. If Twitter is used to
put any comment against the Judicial Institution which scandalizes the Court, or
interferes with the Administration of Justice, it will lead to Criminal
Contempt. However, to constitute Civil Contempt, such a tweet has to be in form
of disobedience against the ruling of the Court.
Written By: Rohit Pradhan