The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed as withdrawn the petition filed by senior journalist N Ram, former Union Minister Arun Shourie, and advocate Prashant Bhushan challenging the validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972, legal news website BarandBench.com has reported.
The three-Judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari today heard the petition after much controversy around the listing of the case.
At the outset, the court was told by Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan that the petitioners wanted to withdraw the plea. He said, "The issue is important but the petitioners would not like to raise the issue at this stage."
Dhavan thus sought liberty to raise the issue again at a later stage, "maybe after two months or so".
The court thus allowed the petition to be withdrawn, giving the petitioners liberty to file it later before an appropriate forum.
This petition challenges the validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972 which deems acts that scandalise or lower the authority of courts punishable under criminal contempt of court.
This plea was filed shortly after the Supreme Court initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against Bhushan for two of his contentious tweets and also took up for hearing an 11-year-old contempt case against the lawyer that had been shelved for years.
The present case was mired in controversy even before it was heard. When it was earlier listed before a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph, Supreme Court officials were "hauled up" for incorrect listing of the case.
The matter was subsequently transferred from the Bench led by Justice Chandrachud and listed before a Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra. This, the Supreme Court officials maintained, was on account of an application filed along with the petition seeking a stay on the ongoing proceedings against Bhushan which was being heard by a Bench led by Justice Mishra.
In the instant petition filed by N Ram, Shourie, and Bhushan, Section 2(1)(c) of the Act is assailed on the grounds that it is violative of Articles 19 and 14 of the Constitution of lndia.
The petition states, "The impugned sub-section is unconstitutional as it is incompatible with preambular values and basic features of the Constitution, it violates Article 19(1)(a), is unconstitutionally and incurably vague, and is manifestly arbitrary."
The petitioners have averred that the provision is vague and manifestly arbitrary. Therefore, they have prayed for the sub-section to be declared as unconstitutional.
The provision violates the right to free speech to the extent that it is not covered under the reasonable restrictions enlisted under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, the petition states. It is contended that "scandalising the court" cannot be said to be covered under the ground of "contempt of court" under Article 19(2).
Even if it the sub-section under challenge was permitted under the head of contempt in the "reasonable restrictions" listed in Article 19(2), it is still disproportionate and unreasonable, the petitioners submit.
This sub-section "fails the test of over-breadth" and has a chilling effect on free speech and expression, the petitioners argue. It also adds, "That the impugned sub-section has an extremely wide import and is incapable of objective interpretation and even-handed application. For instance, a mere interrogation by a traffic constable about whether the red beacon on the hood of a judge's car was authorised was held to be contempt on the grounds of "scandalising the court"."
In addition to being violative of freedom of speech, the plea adds, that the subsection is "incurably vague". Therefore, it is impossible to limit and demarcate the scope of the provision.
On these grounds and others, the petition prays that Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act be struck down as being violative of Articles 19 and 14 of the Constitution.