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Contempt of Court – Spoke against the Judiciary

Supreme Court of India



Criminal Appeal No. 56 of 1968, decided on 31 July, 1970

ACT: Contempt of Court – What is – Chief Minister of State making Remarks in public derogatory of the Judiciary and courts – Sought to justify making them in terms of his political ideology based on the teachings of Marx and Engels – If guilty of contempt – Constitution of India, Art. 19(1) and (2) – Scope of in relation to contempt of court.

The appellant, who was the Chief Minister of Kerala at the time, at a press conference held by him on November 9, 1967, made various critical remarks relating to the judiciary.
These remarks were reported in the newspapers as under:
“Marx and Engels considered the judiciary as an instrument of oppression and even today when the State set up his (sic) not undergone any change it continues to be so, Mr. Nambudiripad told a news conference this morning. He further said that Judges are guided and dominated by class hatred, class interests and class prejudices and where the evidence is balanced between a well dressed pot-bellied rich man and a poor ill-dressed and illiterate person the judge instinctively favors the former, the Chief Minister alleged. The Chief Minister said that election of Judges would be a better arrangement, but unless the basic state set up is changed, it could not solve the problem.
Referring to the Constitution the Chief Minister said the oath he had taken was limited only to see that the constitutional provisions are practiced. ‘I have not taken any oath’ the Chief Minister said “that every word and every clause in the Constitution is sacred”.

And thereafter in proceedings commenced in the High Court, the appellan twas called upon to show cause why he should not be committed for contempt. In an affidavit in reply, the appellant stated that the reports were “substantially correct”, though incomplete in some respects. He supplied some omissions and pleaded want of intention to show disrespect to the judiciary and justification on the ground that the offence charged could not be held to be committed, in view ofthe guarantees of freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution. He claimed that his observations did no morethan give expression to the Marxist philosophy and what was contained in the programme of the Communist Party of India. By a majority judgement the appellant was convicted for contempt of court and fined Rs.1000/- or simple imprisonment for one month.
In appeal to this Court, it was contended on behalf of the appellant that the law of contempt must be read without encroaching upon the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression in Article 19(1)(a) and that the intention ofthe appellant in making his remarks at the press conferences hould be examined in the light of his political views whichhe was at liberty to put before the people; he sought to justify the remarks as an exposition of his ideology which he claimed was ‘based on the teachings of Marx and Engels and on this ground claimed protection of The first clause of Art. 19(1).

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HELD: The law punishes not only act which do not fact interfere with the courts and administration of justice but also those which have that tendency, that is to say, are likely to produce a particular result. Judged from the angle of courts and administration of justice, there was no doubt that the appellant was guilty of contempt of court. Whetherhe misunderstood the teachings of Marx and Engels orde liberately distorted them was not too much purpose. The likely effect of his words must be seen and they clearly hadthe, effect of lowering the prestige of judges and courts in the eyes of the people. That he did not intend any such result may be a matter for consideration in the sentence tohe imposed on him but could not serve as a justification. It was obvious that the appellant had misguided himself about the true teachings of Marx, Engles and Lenin. He had misunderstood the attack by them on state and the laws as involving an attack on the judiciary. No doubt the courts,while upholding the laws and enforcing them, do give support to the state but they do not do so out of any impure motives. They do not range themselves on the side of the exploiting classes and indeed resist, them when the law does not warrant an encroachment. To charge the judiciary as an instrument of oppression, the judges as guided and dominatedby class hatred, class interests and class prejudices, instinctively favoring the rich against the poor is to drawa very distorted and poor picture of the judiciary. It was clear that the appellant bore an attack upon judges which was calculated to raise in the minds of the people a general dissatisfaction with, and distrust of all judicial decisions. It weakened the authority of law and law courts.

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While the spirit underlying Art 19)(1)(a), must have due play, the Court could not overlook the provisions of the second clause of that Article. Its provisions are to beread with Arts. 129 and 215 which specially confer on this Court and the High Courts the power to punish for contempt of themselves. Although Art. 19(1)(a) guarantees complete freedom of speech and expression, it also makes an exception in respect of contempt of court. While the right is essential to a free society, the Constitution has itself imposed restrictions in relation to contempt of court and it cannot therefore be said that the right abolishes the law of contempt or that attacks upon judges and courts will be condoned.
While it is true that Lord Morris in Mcleod v. St. Aubyn L.R. [1899] A.C. 549 at p. 561 observed that the contempt ofcourt known from the days of the Star Chamber as Scandalum Justiciae Curiae or scandalising the Judges, had fallen intodisusein England, as pointed out by Lord Atkin in Andre Paul Terence Ambard v. The Attorney General of Trinidad, and Tobago, A.I.R. 1936 P.C. 141 at 143, the observations of Lord Morris were disproved within a year in The Queen v.Gray. [1900] 2 Q.B. 36 at 40. Since then many convictions had taken place in which offence was held to be committed when the act constituted scandalizing a Judge.

For those who think that the laws are defective, the path of reform is open but in a democracy such as ours to weaken the judiciary is to weaken democracy itself. Where the law is silent, the courts have discretion. The existence of law containing its own guiding principles, reduces the discretion of courts to a minimum. The courts must do their duty according to their own understanding of the laws and the obligations of the Constitution. They cannot take their cue from sentiments of politicians nor even indirectly give support to something which they consider to be wrong against the Constitution and the laws. The good faith of the judges is the firm bed-rock on which any system of administration securely rests and attempt to shake the people’s confidence in the courts, is to strike at the very-root of our system of democracy.

Upholding the appellant’s conviction it was held – The ends of justice in this case are amply served by exposing the appellant’s ignorance about the true teachings of Marx and Engels (behind whom he shelters) and by sentencing him to a nominal fine. We accordingly reduce the sentence of fine to Rs.50/-.

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