PUCL, January 2004

Accountability of the Judiciary is must

-- By Rohit Prajapati
30th January 2004.

Recent example of Gujarat - Justice for sale is raising once again the issue of accountability of the Judiciary not just at local level but also at High Court and Supreme Court level. In many part of the world and in India, the judiciary enjoys a unique position in that the Contempt of Courts Act, against substantive criticism, protects its members. While this law may be meant to uphold the “dignity” and "authority" of the judiciary, the breadth of its applicability has acquired worrying implications. The Indian courts are also very touchy about the issue of Contempt of Court and that is why it has been interpreted in various judicial decisions that even truth cannot be pleaded as a defense in case of Contempt of the Court.

Thus, even criticism of judges based on facts, which are factually true, can attract punishment under the Act. Such a situation is unhealthy for any open and vibrant democracy.

If observations, remarks, comments and criticisms regarding the facts of a case and law are prevented in the name of contempt of court, the legal process is rendered less transparent and placed beyond the reach of open debate and dissent so vital for the healthy functioning of democracy.
It is clear from the wording of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, that rather than defining the courts' powers to punish for contempt, the Act has acquired the potential to be misused to stifle genuine criticism against judges and judgments. This has grave implications for ensuring accountability of one of the key pillars of bourgeoisie democracy. I strongly feel that there is a need to re-examine the Contempt of Courts Act in its entirety. It is high time to demand that Parliament should amend the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 to make it clear that any criticism of the court, howsoever severe, and any contention against even a Judge or the judiciary, will not constitute contempt if based on facts.


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