Wednesday, August 05, 2020

National

Ahead of contempt hearing, Bhushan challenges validity of 'criminal contempt'

IANS | August 01, 2020 03:05 PM

NEW DELHI:Senior journalist N. Ram, former Union Minister Arun Shourie and activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan have moved the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act and termed it as a violation of the Articles 19 and 14 of the Constitution.

The petition has been moved days before the apex court is slated to take up two contempt petitions against Bhushan for allegedly making derogatory remarks against the judiciary and bringing it under disrepute.

On July 22, the top court issued notices to Bhushan and Twitter Inc for his tweets allegedly scandalising the judiciary.

Two days later, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra decided to begin hearing on another contempt case against Bhushan pending since 2009. The two cases will be taken up for hearing on August 4 and 5.

The petitioners argued that this sub-section is unconstitutional, as it is incompatible with preambular values and basic features of the Constitution, and violates Article 19(1 )(a). They claimed the sub-section is unconstitutionally and incurably vague, and is manifestly arbitrary.

The Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, defines 'criminal contempt' as publication of anything - 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 scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court.

The petitioners have asked the top court to issue directions declaring Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 as being violative of Articles 19 and 14 of the Constitution.

"The impugned sub-section, despite setting out penal consequences, is incurably vague. It uses vague terminology whose scope and limits are impossible to demarcate. In particular, the phrase "scandalises or tends to scandalise" invites subjective and greatly differing readings and application which is incapable of being certain and even-handed, " said the plea.

The petitioners' argued that the 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).

"That the impugned sub-section, despite setting out penal consequences, is incurably vague. lt uses vague terminology whose scope and limits are impossible to demarcate. ln particular, the phrase 'scandalises or tends to scandalise' invites subjective and greatly differing readings and application which is incapable of being certain and even-handed. Thus, the offence violates the Article 14 demands of equal treatment and non-arbitrariness, " said the plea.

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