Contempt proceedings against Sibal dropped

A fair and reasonable criticism of a judgment which is a public document or which is a public act of a judge concerned with administration of justice would not constitute contempt of court, the Supreme Court has held.

In fact, such criticism must be encouraged because after all no one, much less judges, can claim infallibility, said a Bench of Justices J.M. Panchal and A.K. Patnaik, dismissing contempt charges against Union Minister Kapil Sibal for his statement on judges as published in a souvenir and reproduced in parts in a newspaper.

As a senior lawyer, Mr. Sibal gave the message for publication in the souvenir brought out by a magazine run by lawyers of the Punjab and Haryana High Court during 1995. This message was reproduced in part in a newspaper, and a group of lawyers construed it as contempt and initiated contempt proceedings against Mr. Sibal and the newspaper in the High Court. It was later transferred to the Supreme Court.

The Bench, in a recent order, pointed out that Mr. Sibal had discussed the malaise afflicting the judiciary. Having practised in the Supreme Court for a pretty long time, he perceived that judges had started disciplining lawyers. He therefore mentioned (in his message) that judges themselves needed to be disciplined. Mr. Sibal also noticed that the legal community was assailing and belittling the judicial system publicly, which was a harmful trend. Only part of the message was published in the newspaper wherein sentences were torn out of context and an impression was given that Mr. Sibal had made a frontal attack on the judiciary.

Writing the judgment, Justice Panchal said a fair reading of the message made it clear that the sending or publication of the message did not scandalise or tend to scandalise, or lower or tend to lower the authority of any court; nor did it interfere or tend to interfere with the due course of judicial proceedings or administration of justice in any manner.

Mr. Sibal’s message was nothing but an expression of the concerns of a senior advocate and he showed the corrective measures to be adopted to get the institution to rid of its shortcomings. As the newspaper also tendered an apology, the Bench dropped contempt charges against it also and closed the case.

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