The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Central government in response to a PIL challenging the constitutional validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
The petition was filed by senior journalists N Ram, Krishna Prasad, former Union minister Arun Shourie and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum passed the order on the petition and posted the case for further hearing in February 2021.
The petitioners said that as journalists, social activists and opinion makers, they are concerned about Section 2(c)(i) of the Act and the chilling effect on the freedom of speech.
The petitioners also contended that the section is violative of Articles 19 and 14 of the Constitution. The petitioners said that they all had a tryst with contempt proceedings, especially under Section 2(c)(i).
The petition contended that the Section violates the right to free speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and does not amount to a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).
“The impugned sub-section violates the right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and does not amount to a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2). The impugned sub-section creates a chilling effect on free speech and expression”, the plea stated.
“The offence of ‘scandalising the court’ is rooted in colonial assumptions and objects, which have no place in legal orders committed to democratic constitutionalism and the maintenance of an open robust public sphere,” the petition said. The petitioners stated that guidelines and rules must be framed in regards to Section 2(c) of the Act as a whole.
Apart from seeking direction to declare Section 2(c)(i) of the Act as violative of the Constitution, the petition has prayed for the framing of rules and guidelines that define the process for the superior courts to follow while taking criminal contempt action, keeping in mind principles of natural justice and fairness.
In August 2020, Ram, Shourie and Bhushan had approached the Supreme Court challenging the very Section but the Supreme Court disposed of the petition with a liberty, as sought by the petitioners, to approach the High Court.
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