Freedom of Speech And Expression And Contempt of Court: Analysis of Prashant Bhushan Case

Abstract-:

Freedom of speech and expression is an essential feature in a democracy. The framers of our Constitution felt it is necessary to instill in the Constitution the freedom of an individual to speak and express himself. However there are certain spheres where the Freedom of speech and Expression takes a pause. The citizens in India have the freedom of speech with regard to the judgements of the Supreme Court, however they are not allowed to harm the serenity of the Supreme Court failing which they would be charged with the Contempt of Court.

Keywords-: Freedom of Speech and Expression, Democracy, Constitution, Contempt of Court

Introduction-:

Freedom of speech and expression has been held to be basic and indivisible for a democratic polity. The freedom of speech and expression means the right to speak and express ones opinions or grievances in any form. Freedom of speech and expression enables an individual in a community to express and speak out his views without any fear of the government, organization or groups[1]

There also come certain exceptions to freedom of speech and expression. Such circumstance arises in case of the instance of Contempt of Court. The right to freedom of speech and expression does not entitle a person to commit Contempt of Court. This freedom should not be confused with a license to malign the serenity of the law courts and the judiciary. The object of the law is to protect the dignity of the law courts as well as to protect the administration of justice.

Perspective under Indian and International Law-:

The right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under the Constitution of India is contained within the provisions of Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(2). Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution of India guarantees “the right to freedom of speech and expression” to all the citizens. 

Clause 2 of Article 19 explains that although the citizens of India have the Freedom of Speech and Expression however this would not cease the State from making a law that poses reasonable restriction on the citizens if such a law is in interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, public order, decency or morality or in relation to the contempt of Court. 

The Indian Constitution is clear on the stand that although the citizens have the right to express and speak what they are willing to but any act of theirs should not affect the serenity and the dignity of the Judiciary in the country.

It is not only the Indian Constitution but the International Law as well which upholds the principle of freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of expression has been recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in International Human Rights Law. 

Therefore whether it is India or any other International Constitution the freedom of speech and expression has its presence in every democratic country. But another thing which is similar to all the countries is that the freedom of speech and expression is not absolute but reasonable and the government in certain sphere has the right to curtail the freedom of the citizens.

Leading Case Laws-:

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[2]  the Supreme Court had held that freedom of speech and expression has no geographical limitation and it carries with it the right of the citizen to gather and exchange information and to exchange thought with others not only in India but abroad also.

In Romesh Thapar v. Union of India[3] the issue was whether State action putting ban on the weekly issue of ‘Crossroad’ violative of Article 19(1). The Chief Justice observed “Freedom of Speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible.”

In the case law of Justice C.S. Karan v. The Supreme Court Of India[4] the court had held that “Law of contempt is not made for the protection of judges who may be sensitive to the winds of public opinion. Judges are supposed to be men of fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate.”

A recent Judgement of the Supreme court with regard to freedom of speech and expression and contempt of court was Re Prashant Bhushan & Anr[5]. The Supreme Court in this case law had taken a suo moto cognizance with regard to the tweet of Prashant Bhushan dated 29th June 2020 in which he had made remarks on the picture of Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde with a motorcycle. Another tweet of Prashant Bhushan which was within the issues was one attributing the Supreme Court for destructing India’s democracy. To this Bhushan’s arguments were that it was his right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. The court had held that the statements published were capable of undermining the authority of the court and the Chief Justice in the eyes of the general public and was therefore held guilty of Contempt of Court and fined for INR 1. Further  in the event of non- compliance he would be punished for imprisonment of 3 years and debarred from practising law for 3 years. The aforesaid case can be analysed as it cast aspersions on the office of the Chief Justice and on the Supreme Court. One cannot cast aspersions on the wisdom of the Chief Justice as he represents an institution in which the citizens of India have utmost faith and that it would deliver natural justice to all aggrieved parties. Therefore the Freedom of Speech and Expression can have certain restrictions.    

Conclusion and Suggestions-:

Therefore the freedom of speech and expression is indispensable for “one’s” own individuality and for the success of a parliamentary democracy. It is said that in a democracy it is not only the right to free expression of an individual but rather a right of a community to hear and be informed.[6]

However it should be kept in mind that the right should be used cautiously and not hurt the feelings and sentiments of any group, organization or an individual. It is also correct on part of the State to impose restrictions on the freedom where it is in the interest of the State at large. Also one should not make a contempt of court while exercising their Fundamental Right of Speech and Expression. Doing so would be punishable and also affect the dignity and the serenity of the Judiciary in the country.  

References-:

  1. Narender Kumar, Constitutional Law of India 267 (Allahabad Law Agency, 10th ed. 2018)
  2. THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA Art. 19(2)
  3. Lavanya.B, Freedom of Speech and Expression (http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-77-freedom-of-speech-and-expression.html)

  1. [1]Narender Kumar, Constitutional Law of India 267 (Allahabad Law Agency, 10th ed. 2018)

[2] 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621

[3] AIR 1950 SC 124

[4] Delhi HC W.P. (C) 6278/2017

[5] CONTEMPT PETITION (CRL.) NO.1 OF 2020

[6] Lavanya.B, Freedom of Speech and Expression (http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-77-freedom-of-speech-and-expression.html)

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