Supreme Court Of India

Dismissing the objections and convicting the respondent-contemnor, the Court HELD: 1.1. `Rule of Law' is the basic rule of governance of any civilised democratic polity. Constitutional scheme adopted by India is also based upon the concept of Rule of Law. Everyone, whether individually or collectively, is unquestionably under the supremacy of law, notwithstanding how powerful, rich and high he or she may be. For achieving the establishment of the rule of law, the Constitution has assigned the special task to the Judiciary. The rule of law unfolds its contents and establishes its concept through the Courts. For the judiciary to perform its duties and functions effectively and true to the spirit with which it is sacredly entrusted, the dignity and authority of the Courts have to be respected and protected at all costs. For restoring confidence amongst the people for the independence of judiciary, its impartiality and the glory of law has to be maintained, protected and strengthened. The confidence in the Courts of justice cannot, in any way, be allowed to be tarnished, diminished or wiped out by contumacious behaviour'of any person. The only weapon of protecting itself from the onslaught to the institution is the contempt of Court in the armoury of judicial repository. |220-C-D-E-F| In Re: Harijai Singh and Anr., [1996] 6 SCC 466, relied on. `Road to Justice' written by Lord Denning, referred to. Frankfurther, J. in Pennekamp v. Florida, (1946) 90 Led 1295, referred to. 1.2. The law of contempt has been enacted to secure public respect and confidence in the judicial process. If such confidence is shaken or broken, the confidence of the common man in the institution of judiciary and democratic set up is likely to be eroded which, if not checked, is sure to be disastrous for the society itself. [222-B] 2.1. In the instant case, notice was issued to the respondent not for having attributed motives to a particular judge but for imputing motives to the Court in general for allegedly harassing her as if the judiciary were carrying out personal vendetta against her. The contemptuous part of affidavit of the respondent, does not attribute any motive or make any allegation against any judge. It has to be kept in mind that the present proceedings are distinguishable from the proceedings contemplated under Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act [228-B-C] 2.2. When action is at the instance of the Court, there is no question of any motive of and prejudice from any Judge. Accepting the plea raised by the respondent would amount to depriving all the Judges of the Court to her the matter and thus frustrate the contempt proceedings, which cannot be the mandate of law. The apprehension caused by the respondent is imaginary, without basis and not bonafide. [228-H; 229-A] 3. Contempt proceedings have been initiated against the respondent on the basis of the offending and contemptuous part of the reply affidavit making wild allegations against the Court and thereby scandlising its authority. There is no point or fact in those proceedings which requires to be defended by pleading the truth. [229-D] Dr. Subramanian Swamy v. Rama Krishna Hegde, [2000] 10 SCC 331, distinguished. 4. No wrong appears to have been done to any judge personally by filing the offending affidavit but the contemptuous part of the affidavit demonstrates the wrong done to the public. The respondent has tried to cast an injury to the public by creating an impression in the mind of the people of this country regarding the integrity, ability and fairness of the institution of judiciary. [231-C| Brahma Prakash Sharma and Ors. v. The State of Uttar Pradesh, [1953] SCR 1169, referred to. 5.1. The law of contempt itself envisages various exceptions as incorporated in Sections 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Besides the defences envisaged under the Act, the Court can, in appropriate cases, consider any other defence put forth by the respondent which is not incompatible with the dignity of the Court and the law of contempt [239-F] Sheela Borse v. Union of India and Ors., [1988] 4 SCC 226, relied on. 5.2. A person claiming the benefit of second exception to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, is required to show that the opinion expressed by him was in good faith which related to the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public functions or respecting his character so far as his character appears in that conduct Under the law of contempt statements made in pleadings, petitions and affidavits of the parties, in a number of cases, have been held defamatory statements amounting to offences under the section unless it is shown that they fall within any of the exceptions. The statements made in an affidavit filed in the Court amount to a criminal contempt [240-G] Surender Nath v. Chief Justice and Judges of the High Court, ILR 10 CaL, 109 and Bathina Ramakrishna Reddy v. State of Madras, AIR, (1952) SC 149, referred to. Re: Sanjiv Datta, Deputy Secretary Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, New Delhi and Ors., [1955] 3 SCC 619, relied on. 5.3. Fair criticism of the conduct of a judge, the institution of the judiciary and its functioning may not amount to contempt if it is made in good faith and in public interest. To ascertain the good faith and the public interest, Courts have to see all the surrounding circumstances including the person responsible for comments, his knowledge in the field regarding which the comments are made and the intended purpose sought to be achieved. All citizens cannot be permitted to comment upon the conduct of the Courts in the name of fair criticism which, if not checked, would destroy the institution itself. Litigant losing in the Court would be the first to impute motives to the judges and the institution in the name of fair criticism which cannot be allowed for preserving the public faith in a important pillar of democratic set up, i.e., judiciary. In the instant case the respondent has not claimed to possess any special knowledge of law and the working of the institution of judiciary and is only claimed herself to be a writer of repute. It is also not denied that the respondent was directly or indirectly associated with the Narmada Bachao andolan and was, therefore, interested in the result of the litigation. She has claimed to have made any study regarding the working of this Court or judiciary in the country and claims to have made the offending imputations in her proclaimed right of freedom of speech and expression as a writer. [245-B-C] P.N. Duda v. P. Shiv Shanker and Ors., [1988] 3 SCC 167, distinguished. Dr. D.C. Saxena v. Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India, [1996] 5 SCC 216, referred to. E.M. Sankaran Namboodripad v. T. Narayanan Nambiar, [1970] 2 SCC 325, referred to. 5.4. The Constitution of India has guaranteed freedom of speech and expression to every citizen as a fundamental right. While guaranteeing such freedom, it has also provided under Article 129 that the Supreme Court 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. Similar power has been conferred on the High Courts of the States under Article 215. Under the Constitution, there is no separate guarantee of the freedom of the press and it is the same freedom of expression, which is conferred on all citizens under Article 19(1). Any expression of opinion would, therefore, be not immune from the liability for exceeding the limits, either under the law of defamation or contempt of Court or the other constitutional limitations under Article 19(2). If a citizen, therefore, in the garb of exercising right of free expression under Article 19(1), tries to scandalise the Court or undermines the dignity of the Court, then the Court would be entitled to exercise power under Article 129 or Article 215, as the case may be. In relation to a pending proceeding before the Court, while showing cause to the notices issued, when it is stated that the Court displays a disturbing willingness to issue notice on an absurd despicable, entirely unsubstantiated petition, it amounts to a destructive attack on the reputation and the credibility of the Institution and it undermines the public confidence in the judiciary as a whole and by no stretch of imagination, can be held to be a fair criticism of the Court's proceeding. When a scurrilous attack is made in relation to a pending proceeding and the notice states that the issuance of notice to show cause was intended to silence criticism and muzzle dissent, to harass and intimidate those who disagree with it, is a direct attack on the Institution itself, rather the conduct of an individual Judge. The meaning of the expression used cannot come within the extended concept of fair criticism or expression of opinion, particularly to the case of the contemnor in the present case, who on her own right is an acclaimed writer in English. [246-E-F-G-H; 247-A-B] 6.1. One has to find out whether there can be a balancing between the two public interests, the freedom of expression and the dignity of the Court. The observations of this Court in the earlier contempt case against the present contemnor is also relevant. In the offending portion of her affidavit, the respondent has accused the Court of proceeding with absurd, despicable and entirely unsubstartiated petition which, according to her, amounted to the Court displaying a disturbing willingness to issue notice. She has further attributed motives to the Court of silencing criticism and muzzling dissent by harassing and intimidating those who disagree with it Her contempt for the Court is evident from the assertion "by entertaining a petition based on an FIR that even a local police station does not see fit to act upon, the Supreme Court is doing its own reputation and credibility considerable harm". In the affidavit filed in these proceedings, the respondent has reiterated what she has stated in her earlier affidavit and has not shown any repentance. She wanted to become a champion to the cause of the writers by asserting that persons like her can allege anything they desire and accuse any person or Institution without any circumspection, limitation or restraint. Such an attitude shows her persistent and consistent attempt to malign the Institution of the judiciary found to be most important pillar in the Indian democratic set up. [247-D-H; 248-A-B-C] Dr. D.C. Saxena v. Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India., [1996] S SCC 216, relied on. Andre Paul v. Attorney General., (1936) AC 322, referred to. 6.2. The well-known proposition of law is that it punishes the archer as soon as the arrow is shot-no matter if it misses to hit the target The respondent is proved to have shot the arrow, intended to damage the Institution of the judiciary and thereby weaken the faith of the public in general and if such an attempt is not prevented, disastrous consequences are likely to follow resulting in the destruction of rule of law the expected norm of any civilised society. [248-D] 6.3. On the basis of the record, the position of law and findings on various pleas raised and the conduct of the respondent, the respondent has committed criminal contempt of this Court by scandalising its authority with malafide intentions. The respondent is, therefore, held guilty for the contempt of Court, punishable under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act The ends of justice would be met if she is sentenced to symbolic imprisonment of simple imprisonment for one day besides paying a fine of Rs. 2,000 and in default of payment of fine, to under go imprisonment for three months. [248-E-G] In Re: S. Mulgaokar, [1978] 3 SCC 339, relied on. Shri Baradakanta Mishra v. The Registrar of Orissa High Court and Anr.,74] 1 SCC 374, referred to. ORIGINAL JURISDICTION: Suo Motu Contempt Petition (Crl.) No. 10 of 2001.