INTRODUCTION A recent order of the Supreme Court found senior advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for two tweets — one relating to the Chief Justice of India astride an expensive motorcycle and the other a comment that the Supreme Court, in his opinion, played a role in the destruction of democracy in India over the last six years. WHAT IS CRIMINAL CONTEMPT Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 defines criminal contempt as the publication of any matter or the doing of any other act which scandalises or lowers the authority of any court; or prejudices or interferes with the due course of any judicial proceeding; or obstructs the administration of justice. CRITICISM AND CONTEMPT There is a thin line separating criticism and contempt. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right guaranteed to every Indian citizen under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, albeit subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2). In C.K. Daphtary v. O.P. Gupta (1971), the Supreme Court held that the existing law of criminal contempt is one such reasonable restriction. That does not mean that one cannot express one’s ire against the judiciary for fear of contempt. CONTEMPT OF COURT Contempt of court is an offence of disobedience or disrespect towards a court of law and its officers in the form of conduct that opposes or challenges the authority, justice and dignity of the court. Contempt of Court is a constitutional power vested with the Supreme Court of India. Article 129 of the Indian Constitution of India states “The Supreme Court of India shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself”. Superior courts of record have the powers to punish contempt’s relating to the judges of those courts and the proceedings therein. The principal aim of the jurisdiction is to protect the dignity of the court and the due administration of justice. The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 under Section 2(c) defines and limits the powers of certain courts in punishing contempt of courts. CONTEMPT OF COURT ACT,1971 1. The act defines the power of courts to punish for their contempt and regulates their procedure. 2. It was amended in 2006 to include the defence of truth under Section 13 of the original legislation. Implying that the court must permit justification by truth as a valid defence if it is satisfied that it is in the public interest. NEED FOR CONTEMPT LAW • The purpose of contempt jurisdiction is to uphold the majesty and dignity of the judiciary. • Contempt powers help judges to do their duties of deciding cases without fear, favour, affection or ill will. PUNISHMENTS FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT • The supreme court and high courts have the power to punish for contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term up to six months or with fine up to 2,000 or with both. • In 1991, the Supreme Court has ruled that it has the power to punish for contempt not only of itself but also of high courts, subordinate courts and tribunals functioning in the entire country. • On the other hand, High Courts have been given special powers to punish contempt of subordinate courts, as per Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971. CONTEMPT POWER AND PROTECTION OF JUDGES The power to punish for contempt is not for the protection of the individual judicial officers from insult or injury. In the words of Lord Morris in Attorney General v. Times Newspapers Ltd: Thalidomide case, “The power summarily to commit for contempt is considered necessary for the proper administration of justice. It is not to be used for the vindication of a judge as a person. He must resort to action for libel or criminal information”. Justice While formulating principles for exercise of contempt power by courts, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer in the Re: S. Mulgaokar (1978) case, which arose out of the publication of an article in the Indian Express in December 1977, lays down, “The third principle is to avoid confusion between personal protection of a libeled Judge and prevention of obstruction of public justice and the community’s confidence in the great process. The former is not contempt, the latter is, although overlapping spaces abound.” ROHTAGI DEFENDS CARTOONIST RACHITA TANEJA IN CONTEMPT CASE IN SC Senior Advocate Mukul Rohtagi appeared on behalf of cartoonist Rachita Taneja on Friday in the contempt of court case initiated against her by the Supreme Court. Rohatgi argued that the Court should never have taken cognizance of the matter, stating, “Why has the court take cognizance of this? Foundation of the Court is much stronger. Criticism of court can never be contempt. She is young 25-year-old girl,” as per a report carried by Bar & Bench. He also contended that there is an adverse public perception against the Supreme Court for having heard a case against a journalist during the vacation. Rohatgi was referring to the bail plea of Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, whose case was taken up during the Diwali vacation, when the Court was shut. Justice Ashok Bhushan said that he agreed that the Court’s foundation is strong, but such allegations against the Court were being made frequently. Justice MR Shah, who was also on the Bench insisted that Taneja should file her response in the matter. Attorney General KK Venugopal received numerous requests from law students and lawyers to initiate contempt against Taneja for the tweets, and eventually granted his consent for the same in December 2020. CONCLUSION The law is very subjective which might be used by the judiciary arbitrarily to suppress their criticism by the public. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution gives the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens, while “contempt provisions” curb people’s freedom to speak against the court’s functioning. The time has come for us to redefine contempt. We need to guarantee the protection of justice. We don’t need to protect the position or reputation of judges. And we certainly must not shelter them from criticism. Justice is special; judges are only a means to that end. Therefore, it follows you can criticise a judge without lowering or degrading the majesty of justice. There is not anything in the character of the office that should protect a judge, against criticism.