The High Court of Rajasthan recently dismissed a petition which sought initiation of Criminal Contempt proceedings against Bhartiya Janata Party’s national spokesperson, Prem Shukla. The plea was filed on the grounds that Shukla had insulted Justice S. Murlidhar, then a judge of High Court of Delhi.
The matter was taken up by the bench of Justice Goverdhan Bardhar and Justice CK Songara. It observed that the derogatory remarks were made by the famous politician during the course of debate and therefore were not “deliberately” intended to interfere in the administration of justice.
The case for criminal contempt had been filed by Advocate and Aam Aadmi Party politician Poonam Chand Bhandari. The plea submitted that Shukla had wilfully insulted the sitting judge in a TV program telecasted by the popular news channel News24 on 2nd March 2020. It submitted that-
“The statement made by Respondent no.1 undermined the dignity of the judiciary in the country and scandalized or tend to scandalize and lowered the authority of the judiciary”
The court did not find any substance in the aforementioned allegation.
“Taking note of the contents and context, it is pertinent to note that Mr. Prem Shukal, National Spokes Person of Bhartiya Janta Party gave the aforesaid statement while participating in a debate. Thus, the statement given by Mr. Shukla cannot be said to be deliberate interference in the administration of justice.”
In the order passed on 9th June 2020, the bench added-
"the criminal contempt petition filed by the petitioner is without any substance and is accordingly dismissed."
The precedent for this issue came from the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Ramlila Maidan Incident of 2012. The bench in the case in light of the prevailing situation emphasized the significance of the right to freedom of speech and expression and observed-
“The Framers of our Constitution, in unambiguous terms, granted the right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble peaceably and without arms. This gave to the citizens of this country a very valuable right, which is the essence of any democratic system. There could be no expression without these rights. Liberty of thought enables liberty of expression. Belief occupies a place higher than thought and expression. The belief of people rests on the liberty of thought and expression. Placed as the three angels of a triangle, thought and expression would occupy the two corner angles on the baseline while belief would have to be placed at the upper angle. Attainment of the pre-abled liberties is eternally connected to the liberty of expression.”
In an increasingly volatile environment where tolerance has been on an all-time low, the role of courts in differentiating between what qualifies for criminal proceedings and what doesn’t is imminent. The courts now must be very vigilant in these kinds of matters in order to make sure that justice is dispensed fairly.