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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : Contempt of court

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on indiaserver.com
Monday, December 27, 1999


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Contempt of court

Sir, - Ms. Gail Omvedt in her article, ``Dignity of judges'' decries our continuing the anachronistic British concept of contempt of court and the rituals of British times, and adds that ``dignity must be established by humans themselves, not by artificial props, and that true human dignity is hurt by arrogant behaviour as much as by contempt'' (The Hindu, Dec. 15, 16).

``Contempt of court'' is a creature of the British common law. In the U.S., even in proceedings for contempt of court, the issue of freedom of speech and press is examined in the light of ``clear and present danger'' test. Unlike as in India and the U.K., great latitude is permitted in the U.S. both as regards disparaging observations of a judge and as regards pending matters. In the High Court of Australia (in Nicolls), Griffiths C.J. said, ``I am not prepared to accede to the proposition that an imputation of want of impartiality to a judge is necessarily a contempt of court.''

It is odd that truth is not permitted as defence in contempt proceedings. As observed by Mr. H. M. Seervai, ``It would be surprising that Lord Chancellor Bacon could be impeached for taking bribes and deprived of his office in the 1620s, but a judge of a Supreme Court in the 1970s could not be dealt with likewise on complaints made in good faith to persons in authority.''

``Civil contempt'' (wilful disobedience to any judgment or order of court) must certainly be punished. The law of ``criminal contempt'', however, needs suitable amendment to accommodate two constitutional values - the right to free speech and the right to independent justice.

N. Krishna Murthy,

Cuddapah


Section  : Opinion
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