Powers of contempt of court should be used not to protect the dignity of the Court against insult or injury, but to protect and vindicate the right of people so that administration of justice is not hampered, the Bombay High court at Goa has ruled (Kashinath Shetye v. David Clever & Ors.).
A Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice MS Sonak, therefore, refused to initiate contempt of court action against a person for allegedly uploading contemptuous videos on YouTube and WhatsApp against members of the district judiciary at Goa, holding that the shoulders of our institution (judiciary) are broad enough to shrug off scurrilous allegations.
"The Court has the duty of protecting this interest of the community in the due administration of justice and, so, it is entrusted with the power to punish for its contempt. This power is to be only sparingly exercised, not to protect the dignity of the Court against insult or injury, but, to protect and vindicate the right of the people so that the administration of justice is not perverted, prejudiced, obstructed, or interfered with," the order said.
The Court said that it would prefer to treat such content "with contempt" rather than "in contempt" and also placed reliance on Lord Denning's judgment in R.v. metropolitan police in which he had refused to be provoked by a scathing article written by a lawyer.
"Such content, allegedly uploaded by respondent no.1, is best treated with contempt, rather than in contempt particularly since respondent no.1 has neither bothered to cite any specific instances nor bothered to lodge any complaints backed by even, prima facie, credible material," the High Court said. The Court was hearing a contempt petition filed by one Kashinath Shetye against one David Clever who allegedly uploaded videos on YouTube containing scurrilous allegations against some district judicial officers of Goa.
Shetye had also obtained consent under Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act from Advocate General Devidas Pangam to approach the Court seeking issuance of criminal contempt. The Bench opined that though the content alleged uploaded by Clever was quite "contumacious and if established might constitute criminal contempt".
However, the Court said that dignity and authority of judicial institutions were neither dependent on the opinions allegedly expressed by Clever nor can the dignity of the institution and its officers be tarnished by such stray slights or irresponsible content. With a preliminary inquiry made on the administrative side of the Court, it seemed to the Bench that the videos "without citing specific references" seemed to have been uploaded by some disgruntled litigant.
The Bench observed that people have a vital stake in the free and effective administration of justice, and it was the duty of Courts to protect this interest for due administration of justice. The power of contempt of court is for the same and not for protecting dignity of court, the High Court underscored. "To take this matter any further might only serve to feed the publicity craze of those that have uploaded this content to provoke rather than out of some concern to bring to fore some genuine grievance concerning the administration of justice in Goa," the Court said while rejecting the plea.