On Tuesday Chief Justice Abhay S. Oka of the Karnataka High Court had issued notice to the centre on a petition that challenges section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, on the grounds of Constitutional validity. The section makes the publication of a matter that “may scandalize the courts” a criminal offence.
The petition has been filed by Mr. Krishna Prasad and Mr. N. Ram who are both journalists, along with Advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union Minister Arun Shourie. The grounds on which the section has been challenged by the petitioners is that the section violates Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution of India and it is vague and “manifestly arbitrary”.
The petitioners submit that the impugned provision “has a chilling effect on free speech and expression” and that the provision silences legitimate comments or criticisms. It restricts the speech and expression on a “tendency” that it will scandalize the courts. Relying on S.Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram case, the petitioners state that “the right to free speech and expression cannot be abridged on the basis of mere speculation of harm. Nor can the right to free speech be restricted in the absence of real and proximate harm. The impugned sub-section restricts speech on the basis of no more than its a “tendency” to scandalize or lower the authority of the courts. This is constitutionally impermissible in the absence of some evidence or connection which removes alters the harm from a purely speculative one to a real, proximate and likely one.”
They also argue that the section in question was not thought to be a restriction under Article 19. “It would be wholly unconstitutional to allow legislation to expand the scope of restrictions at the cost of the breadth and vigor of the fundamental”, the petition said.
Several other grounds have been taken by the petitioners to challenge the provision of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. The petition states that it also harms the dignity of the person who has been convicted under the offence.
The matter is likely to be heard later in February.