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Monday, October 26, 2020

Actor Suriya’s NEET remarks ‘unnecessary’ but not contempt: Madras HC

Actor Suriya had said that courts are delivering justice through video conferencing due to life-threatening coronavirus fears but are ordering students to write the exams fearlessly.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai | Updated: September 18, 2020 6:43:04 pm
suriya, actor suriya, suriya neet exam remarks, suriya neet, neet exam, neet tamil nadu suicide, madras high court, suriya contempt case, suriya madras high court, indian expressThe Madras High Court bench observed that actor Suriya’s NEET remarks do not amount to contempt or a level of criminal contempt but termed them "absolutely unnecessary".

The Madras High Court Friday declined to initiate contempt proceedings against actor Suriya for his comments on the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The principal bench observed that the actor’s remarks do not amount to contempt or a level of criminal contempt but termed them “absolutely unnecessary”.

“It would be prudent on the part of the individuals to carefully frame their minds and express themselves that may not cross the borders of any fair and just criticism. On the other hand, it is not the job of a constitutional Court to use a sledgehammer for avoidance of something which can be perceived to be not capable of even being propped up as a contempt, much less debated to the level of a criminal contempt. This matter, therefore, in our judicious discretion does not deserve to be pursued further and we entirely agree with opinions expressed by the Advocate General,” the court said.

The court added the right to freedom of speech to call a spade a spade and to exercise free unrestrained speech are two different dimensions. It added that the right to freedom of speech that includes fair criticism is guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, but the same Constitution also protects and insulates judicial governance from insidious and derogatory comments under Article 215 of the Constitution.

“Drawing support from what we have expressed hereinabove, we find the utterances by the cine actor may have been absolutely unnecessary or even unwarranted, for being ignorant of the manner in which the entire judiciary of this State has served the interest of its citizens during this pandemic, and any such statement could have been avoided in a much more sober way, instead of an accusing tone, which through trivial nature has raised a storm in a tea cup,” the court observed.

On September 13, actor Suriya had issued a statement following the alleged suicide of three NEET aspirants in Tamil Nadu. He had said the three deaths had shaken his conscience. “A government that was supposed to ensure equal opportunities for everyone brought a law with an education system that creates inequality,” he wrote.

He had said that courts are delivering justice through video conferencing due to life-threatening coronavirus fears but are ordering students to write the exams fearlessly.

This part of his statement had offended Justice SM Subramaniam of the Madras High Court who sought to initiate contempt of court against Suriya as his statement found to be “offensive to the judicial system in general”.

In a letter to Chief Justice AP Sahi, he wrote “The statement reveals that the Hon’ble Judges are afraid of their own life and rendering justice through video conferencing. While-so, they have no morale to pass orders directing the students to appear for NEET exams without fear. The statement, in my considered opinion, amounts to contempt of court as the integrity and devoation of the Hon’ble Judges as well as the judicial System of our Great Nation are not only undermined but criticised in a bad shape, wherein there is a threat for the public confidence on the Judiciary.”

Explained | Why Tamil actor Suriya’s remarks on NEET are being scrutinised for contempt of court

Subsequently, six retired Madras High Court Judges—Justice K Chandru, Justice KN Baasha, Justice T Sudanthiram, Justice D Hariparanthaman, Justice K Kannan, and Justice GM Akbar Ali— came in support of Suriya and wrote to the Chief Justice that considering the actor’s statement as a contempt of court would be slightly off the mark and it does not require any action as requested by the judge.

However, the Tamil Nadu Advocates Association condemned the actor’s remark.

Ever since the issue took center stage in the state, social media was flooded with hashtags both criticising and supporting Suriya. Leaders from both the ruling and opposition camp voiced out their opinions.

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