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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : Contempt power

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on indiaserver.com
Monday, August 23, 1999


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Contempt power

Sir, - Mr. V. R. Krishna Iyer and Mr. Rajeev Dhawan have written instructive articles on the law of contempt (TheHindu,August 2 and 7). The words ``contempt of court'' are archaic and are borrowed from the English law. Contempt jurisdiction is intended not so much to protect the individual judges, but for protection of administration of justice and the preservation of public confidence in its honesty and impartiality, and to uphold the supremacy of law. This power is necessary because the judiciary cannot answer back or defend itself. This power to punish for contempt is a formidable power, and should be very sparingly exercised. Lord Denning put it aptly: ``Let me say at once that we will never use this jurisdiction as a means to uphold our own dignity. That must rest on surer foundations. Nor will we use it to suppress those who speak against us. We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it. For there is something far more at stake. It is no less than freedom of speech itself.''

In the Grenade case, Lord Denning attracted criticism for certain observations he made against the press. Michael Foot exclaimed, ``Denning is an ass.'' The Observercame out with a headline in justification, ``Why Denning is an ass.'' The court did not think it fit to initiate action for contempt.

The subject is now of topical interest in connection with the writ petition filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in the Supreme Court four years ago. Judges have already expressed concern at the comments of Ms. Arundhati Roy, Ms. Medha Patkar and the other NBA activists. The court issued an order in November 1998 directing the parties to the litigation not to make any comments on the merits of the litigation. American courts have been very liberal in permitting media comments and editorials even in pending cases.

N. Krishna Murthy,

Cuddapah


Section  : Opinion
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