Centre defends Section 2(c)(i) of Contempt of Courts Act; tells Karnataka HC criminal contempt needed to protect judicial independence

Section 2(c)(i) of Contempt of Courts Act, which provides for criminal contempt of court, is a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression and is necessary to protect the independence of judiciary, the Central government told the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday.
Section 2(c)(i) criminalises publication of any matter which could scandalize or lower the authority of the courts.
The said provision, the Centre said, is protected by Article 19(2) of the Constitution which allows legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on free speech.
The government submitted that by placing reasonable restrictions on citizens from “scandalizing the court”, no fundamental rights are curbed or taken away.
Criticism of the court based on obvious distortion or gross misstatement and made in a manner designed to lower the respect for the judiciary cannot be ignored, it added.
The affidavit was filed in response to a plea by journalist Krishna Prasad, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Hindu Group Director and journalist N Ram and former Union Minister Arun Shourie challenging Section 2(c)(i) on the ground that it has a chilling effect on the right to freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Constitution.
The Central government maintained that none of the fundamental rights under Article 19 are absolute and they are all subject to reasonable restrictions such as defamation, decency and morality, public order and incitement of offences.
The affidavit also countered the contention of the petitioners that “scandalizing the court” as a ground for defamation is rooted in colonial assumptions.
The Centre contended that the said proposition is nothing but a “figment of imagination of the petitioners.”
The Centre also opposed the argument of the petitioners that the scheme of the Act is vague.
Legislature cannot foresee all possible situations amounting to contempt of court and the same has to be decided in the light of facts and circumstances of each case, it added.
The matter will be taken up on June 28.

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