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Earlier SC verdicts on contempt caution against ‘easy irritability’

Judges are supposed to be men of fortitude, to thrive in a hardy climate, said Constitution Bench

Past judgments of the Supreme Court on contempt by “scandalising the court” caution judges from falling prey to “easy irritability”.

The Supreme Court has held that contempt arises only when an attack is calculated to obstruct or destroy the judicial process.

These judicial precedents gain significance in the light of the Supreme Court initiating suo motu contempt against advocate Prashant Bhushan for his tweet on a photograph of Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde astride a heavy bike.

The court observed that the tweet undermined the dignity and authority of the Supreme Court and the office of the Chief Justice of India.

A seven-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in a suo motu contempt case against former Madras High Court judge, C.S. Karnan, said contempt does not exist to protect individual judges. Judges are supposed to be men of fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate.

Another verdict, half-a-century older, says ordinary rules of slander and libel apply for a personal attack upon a judge, which is unconnected with his or her office.

“The dogs may bark, the caravan will pass. The court will not be prompted to act as a result of an easy irritability,” the court advised in its Mulgaokar judgment reported in 1978.

Frequent or indiscriminate use of contempt power by judges adversely affect rather than sustain their dignity or status, Chief Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar wrote in his 1964 judgment in a Special Reference.

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