SC allows withdrawal of plea against contempt law

The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed veteran journalists N. Ram and Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan to withdraw their writ petition challenging “scandalising of court” as a ground for contempt with liberty to approach a High Court.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra, however, insisted that the writ petitioners could not withdraw the case with an intention to straightaway move the Supreme Court later on.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, for the petitioners, agreed, saying they would approach the appropriate forum, that is, the High Court concerned. Mr. Dhavan said the issue represented in the writ petition was important, but “this is not the propitious stage”. “We would like to file it, maybe after two months,” Mr. Dhavan submitted initially.

‘Vague ground’

The writ petition had challenged the “scandalising of court” as an “incurably vague” ground for initiating contempt action. They said the contempt law in question was unconstitutional, rooted in colonialism and produced a chilling effect on free speech and expression.

Their petition, filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal, focused on the legality of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Court Act. The Section holds that it amounts to criminal contempt if a person publishes, by words spoken or written or by any other act, anything “which scandalises or tends to scandalise or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court”. “

‘Scandalising the court’ is rooted in colonial assumption and objects, which have no place in legal orders committed to democratic constitutionality and maintenance of an open robust public sphere,” the petition had said.

The petition was earlier dropped from the list of cases scheduled for hearing before a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud on August 10 because it had been accompanied with an application to stay contempt cases pending against the noted civil rights lawyer before another Bench (Justice Mishra’s).

A note issued from official quarters had said that the Supreme Court Registry committed a “mistake” in listing the writ petition before Justice Chandrachud, and an explanation had been sought from the Registry officials.

Another note explained the dropping of the case from the Justice Chandrachud Bench, saying the accompanying application sought a stay on a criminal contempt case of 2009 and the suo motu contempt proceedings, both pending before a three-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra.

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