High Court sends Notice to Law Ministry on plea challenging constitutional validity of Contempt Act

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On Tuesday, the Karnataka High Court ordered notice to the Ministry of Law and Justice on a PIL challenging the constitutional validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 on the grounds that it violates Article 19 and 14 of the Constitution, is incurably vague and manifestly arbitrary.

The petition, jointly filed by journalists N Ram and Krishna Prasad, former Union minister Arun Shourie and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, is likely to be heard on February 22. Section 2(c)(i) defines criminal contempt as publication or doing of any act that “scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court”.

A division bench also ordered Notice to the Attorney General of India as the constitutional validity of this central legislation is facing challenge.

The SC had in August allowed Ram, Shourie and Bhushan to withdraw their challenge to the clause with the liberty to approach any appropriate judicial forum, except the top court. They had said that they were withdrawing the plea as several petitions on the issue were pending before the SC.

“The petitioners are concerned about Section 2(c)(i) and the chilling effect it has on the freedom of speech,” they have stated in their PIL before the HC.

According to them, the provision doesn’t amount to a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2) of the Constitution as it fails the test of over-breadth, abridges the right to free speech and expression, in the absence of tangible and proximate harm.

They contended that the offence of “scandalising the court” is rooted in colonial assumptions and objects, which have no place in legal orders committed to democratic constitutionalism.

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