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HC notice to Centre on PIL challenging contempt Act

HC notice to Centre on PIL challenging contempt Act


The Karnataka High Court ordered issue of notice to the Union government on a PIL petition filed by four eminent personalities challenging the constitutional validity of a provision of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

PIL held that it makes “scandalising or tends to scandalising courts” as a ground for contempt.

Tweets against CJI amounts to Criminal Contempt – Civilsdaily


A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum passed the order on the petitions filed by

Petitions filed by:

  1. Krishna Prasad, senior journalist and former Editor of Outlook magazine;
  2. N. Ram, veteran journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu;
  3. Arun Shourie, former Union Minister, and
  4. Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate.

All the four petitioners have narrated the proceedings faced by them under the Contempt of Courts Act at different point of time before the High Courts and the apex court.

Earlier they had filed a similar petition before the Supreme Court, which in August last year had permitted them to withdraw the petition by giving them liberty to move a High Court.


Section 2(c)(i) of the Act:

  • It violates the right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and
  • Does not amount to a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).

The Section 2(c)(i)

  • Fails the test of overbreadth,
  • Abridges the right to free speech and expression in the absence of tangible and proximate harm,  
  • Chilling effect on free speech and expression

Offence of “scandalising the court: It cannot be considered to be covered under the category of “contempt of court” under Article 19(2).

If Section 2(c)(i) were permissible under the ground of contempt in Article 19(2), it would be disproportionate and therefore unreasonable.

The offence of ‘scandalising the court’ is rooted in colonial assumptions and objects, which have no place in legal orders committed to democratic constitutionalism and the maintenance of an open robust public sphere.” 



Article 129: Grants Supreme Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.

Article 142(2): Enables the Supreme Court to investigate and punish any person for its contempt.

Article 215: Grants every High Court the power to punish for contempt of itself.

Not Defined: In the Constitution.


It divides contempt into

  1. Civil contempt (Section 2(b)): Wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ
  2. Criminal contempt (Section 2(c)): Publication of any matter which Scandalises court


Duda P.N. v. Shivshankar: Contempt jurisdiction should not be used by Judges to uphold their own dignity.

Auto Shankar’s Case: SC invoked the famous “Sullivan doctrine” that public persons must be open to stringent comments and accusations as long as made with bonafide diligence, even if untrue.

Arundhati Roy Case: Fair criticism of the conduct of a Judge, the institution of the judiciary and its functioning may not amount to contempt if made in good faith and in public interest.

Source: The Hindu