A plea was filed in the Supreme Court on Saturday challenging the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, which the petitioners argue is “unconstitutional and against the basic structure of the Constitution”, NDTV reported. The petitioners in the case are former Union Minister Arun Shourie, senior journalist N Ram, and advocate Prashant Bhushan.
The petitioners claimed that parts of the Act, formulated in 1971, “have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression” as guaranteed by the Constitution, and asked the Supreme Court to quash these provisions. “...By criminalising criticism of the court in sweeping and absolute terms, the impugned sub-section raises a prior restraint on speech on matters of public and political importance,” the petition said.
The petitioners are referring to Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, which states that “criminal contempt means the publication [whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise] of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which (i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court”.
The petitioners also claimed that the sub-section is contrary to the values enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution, Live Law reported. “It violates Article 19(1)(a), is unconstitutional and incurably vague, and is manifestly arbitrary,” they alleged. Article 19(1)(a) assures to all citizens of India the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Incidentally, Bhushan faces two contempt petitions in the Supreme Court. On July 21, the Supreme Court initiated suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against Bhushan and social media platform Twitter India. The next day, the top court issued notices to Bhushan and Attorney General KK Venugopal for the lawyer’s alleged derogatory tweets against the judiciary. The case will be heard again on August 5.
The court will on August 4 hear another, 11-year-old contempt of court case against Bhushan. Bhushan had made some remarks against Supreme Court judges in an interview to Tehelka magazine 11 years ago, in 2009. The contempt of court case was filed by advocate Harish Salve.