Contempt of Court and The Right To Dissent
The Judiciary is one of the three most important pillars of democracy. It is responsible to interpret law, administer justice to the public and maintain the rule of law in the country. The delivery of justice in a country where thousands of cases are registered every day before the court is not an easy task. It is a tedious job which requires tremendous effort by the judges, officers and staffs of the court.
Hence, the judicial department and the decision provided by the courts must be respected and obliged by all the citizens. The dignity of the Court and its decision must be maintained by the citizens for it to function properly and provide justice to the citizens.
However, it is not necessary that paying respect to the Judiciary means that people have no right to criticize it. The Right to dissent is one of the most important fundamental right provided to the citizens by the Constitution of India under Article 19. Debate, Dissent and Criticism have always played an important role in the foundation and working of a democratic nation. In a democracy, the people are entitled to criticize the working of the Judiciary as much as any other organ of democracy i.e. the legislative or the executive.
Such criticism or dissent must be aimed at improving the state of affairs rather than worsening it. Hence, there are certain reasonable restrictions to ensure that criticism and dissent does not become a destroyer of democracy rather than being an element of democracy.
This blog deals with the importance to maintain the dignity and respect of the Judiciary in the contemporary times and at the same time monitor the problems prevalent in it to improve it which is an essential feature of democracy. It explains the Right to Dissent available to the citizens under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. It further explains the reasonable restrictions that the Right to Dissent is subject to and the limitations which must not be breached by the citizens in criticizing the judiciary with the help of the recent cases in the court.
RIGHT TO DISSENT – A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT UNDER ARTICLE 19
For a healthy running of democracy and progress of the country, it is necessary that the state welcomes positive dissent and criticism rather than attempting to silence it absolutely as it dilutes the democratic essence and prevents the unethical and immoral issues and actions to come to light. Further, the blanket labelling of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of the commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracy.
Right to Dissent is one of the most important Fundamental Right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India features of Freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed to the citizens under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. In the case of Justice (Retd.) Markandey Katju vs The Lok Sabha & Anr. [i], it was held that “Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees to an individual, the freedom to hold and publicly express dissenting opinions without fear of any form. It is the duty of the Legislature to respect and promote respect for such a right and not to curtail the same, either by enacting legislation's that run contrary to Article 19(2) or to pass a resolution, condemning the exercise of such free speech.”
The right to criticize is included in the Right to Dissent which must be used in a responsible and encouraging manner by the citizens to improve the pillars of democracy and contribute to the progress of the nation. Hence, it is not incorrect to say “dissent” is the safety valve of democracy and there could be no democracy without dissent.[ii]
REASONABLE RESTRICTIONS ON RIGHT TO DISSENT
The “true test” of a democracy is its ability to ensure the creation and protection of spaces where every individual can voice their opinion without the fear of retribution. However, in contemporary times, it is not uncommon to see people expressing their dissent and criticizing the present affairs in the name of social and political change to gain personal benefits.
While exercising their rights people often cross the sensible and reasonable limit, forgetting that they are subject to the same Rule of Law to which the pillars of democracy are held to be accountable. The Right to Dissent must not be allowed to become an opportunity for the public to express discontent, hate and malign the image of the judiciary without any reasonable and justifiable logic.
This is done by subjecting the Right to Dissent provided under Article 19 to Reasonable Restrictions under the various statutes enacted by the legislature to ensure that the freedom of speech and expression is not abused and exploited to threaten the peace and stability in the society and smooth functioning of the state.
CONTEMPT OF COURT
The right of free speech is one of the greatest guarantees to liberty in a free country like ours, even though that right is frequently and in many instances outrageously abused. However, if any considerable portion of a community is led to believe on the basis of false facts and in attempt to malign the image of the judiciary and hamper the administration of justice provided by the courts, that either because of gross ignorance of the law or because of a wrong reason, the public cannot rely upon the courts to administer justice then, it becomes a threat to the respect and dignity of the Court and its judgments and hence it is essential for the court to protect its dignity and to punish those who are willing to malign its reputation and respect on the basis of allegation having no factual basis and of which there is no evidence. [iii]
The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 defines and limits the powers of certain courts in punishing contempt of courts and regulates their procedure in this regard and ensures that the dignity and respect of the public in the court and the system of administration of justice is maintained. [iv]
CONTEMPT CASE AGAINST PRASHANT BHUSHAN
There have been many instances where scandalizing and lowering the image of the judiciary have been categorized as criminal contempt. One such recent example is of Prashant Bhushan, a renowned lawyer who is known for making strong critical remarks. In one of his tweets made on 27th June 2020, Bhushan went on to alleged the judiciary of destroying democracy and has also attributed the destruction on the last four chief justices of India.
Similarly, in another tweet, he made an attack on CJI Justice Bobde, astride a Harley Davidson bike by drawing an unreasonable analogy by comparing CJI’s personal endeavour to the function of the Honourable Apex Court. The court while issuing contempt notice observed that “prima facie, (it is) of the view that the aforesaid statements on Twitter have brought the administration of justice in disrepute and are capable of undermining the dignity and authority of the Institution of Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of the public at large”. [v]
Another similar contempt charges have been framed against Bhushan, in 2009 the court had taken suo-moto cognizance of the statement given in an interview by Prashant Bhushan to a magazine, in which he made an allegation of corruption in the apex judiciary, especially by accusing 16 CJIs of indulging in it.
Judiciary is one of the most important pillars of democracy without which it cannot sustain itself. In the absence of Judiciary, the Doctrine of Separation of Power which is one of the most fundamental features of democracy will be destroyed and the administration of justice will become nearly impossible for the state. Hence, it is essential for the smooth functioning of the democracy that the faith in the Judiciary is maintained.
The respect and dignity of the Judiciary must be upheld by each citizen as it is ultimate interpreter as well as the guardian of the Constitution of India. It ensures the rule of law and delivery of justice to millions of citizens of the nation. "Laws are not made by Legislatures alone, but by the law-abiding as well; the Statute ceases to embody a law in the degree that it is widely disregarded.” [vi]
The Right to Dissent is one of the most important fundamental rights provided to the citizens of India under Article 19, which must be used in a responsible and encouraging manner to correct the wrongs and evils in the system, contribute to the development of the nation and make a positive impact in the society. It must not be allowed to be exploited and misused for any personal gain by making malign and false remarks about the Judiciary and hamper the administration of Justice in India.
[i] (2017), 2 SCC 384
[ii] Blanket labeling of dissent as anti-national hurts ethos of democracy: Justice Chandrachud, Legal, (July 25, 2020, 10: 32 AM) http://www.ptinews.com/news/11228394_Blanket-labelling-of-dissent-as-anti-national-hurts-ethos-of
[iii] P.N. Duda vs V. P. Shiv Shankar & Others, 1988 AIR 1208
[iv] Contempt of Court Act, 1961
[v] Supreme Court issues contempt notices to Prashant Bhushan and Twitter, India, (July 26, 2020, 12: 36 PM) https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/supreme-court-notice-on-democracy-motorcycle-tweets/cid/1787118
[vi] Sheela Barse vs Union Of India & Ors, JT 1988 (3) 15
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Ayush Amar Pandey who is a 2nd Year B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Chanakya National Law University, Patna & Shabnam Sheikh who is a 2nd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur.
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