Karnataka HC Sends Notice To Law Ministry for a PIL Filed on Constitutional Validity of Contempt of Court Act

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The Karnataka High Court sent a notice to the Ministry of law and Justice on Tuesday regarding a PIL that challenged the constitutional validity of Section 2(c) (1) of the Contempt of Courts Act 1971. It was challenged on the grounds that it violates articles 14 and 19 of the constitution which is vague and arbitrary.

The petition was collectively filed by journalists N Ram and Krishna Prasad, Arun Shourie who was the former Union minister, and Prashant Bhushan a Senior Advocate. The petition is likely to be heard on 22nd February 2020.

What is Section (2)(1) of Contempt of Court Act?

Section (2)(1) defines criminal contempt as the publication or performing of an act that “scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court”. The division bench ordered notice to the Attorney general of India as central laws like these were facing challenges based on their constitutional validity.

What did the petition say?

The Supreme Court allowed Ram and Prashant Bhushan in August, to withdraw the challenge on the clause giving them the liberty to approach any other judicial forum regarding the same but not the top court.

As several petitions were already pending on the issue the petitioners had decided to withdraw their plea earlier. It was stated in the plea before the High Court that “the petitioners are concerned about the Section (2)(1) and the chilling effect it has on the freedom of speech”.

Freedom of speech can be restricted only when there are reasonable grounds for it, for example, the emergency period, etc. According to the petitioners, the provision does not amount to any reasonable restriction under Article 19(2) of the constitution. They further reason it out that, it does not pass the overbreadth test which means the section is vague and also hinders a citizen’s freedom of speech. Even though proximate harm is absent.

They argued that the issue of “Scandalizing the court” is rooted in Colonial times where no-one was given the right to go against the court. According to the petitioners, such obsolete laws do not have any place in a democratic society like ours.


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