Judiciary must not waste precious time in contempt hearings, must be open to criticism: Justice SS Shinde of Bombay High Court

"Judiciary must be open to criticism and avoid contempt proceedings as they waste precious judicial time and critical questions of law cannot be heard" the court said during the hearing
Judiciary must not waste precious time in contempt hearings, must be open to criticism: Justice SS Shinde of Bombay High Court

Judiciary must not waste precious time on contempt hearings which can otherwise be utilised for hearing important questions of law, Justice SS Shinde of Bombay High Court remarked on Tuesday adding that courts and judges must be open to criticism from public.

Contempt of court powers, he said, should be used only as a last resort and weapon and should not be used against a layperson criticising courts or judges.

"Judiciary must be open to criticism. Contempt is the last resort and weapon. This is my personal opinion. Because precious judicial time is wasted on contempt hearings and important matters and question of law cannot get heard," Justice Shinde said.

The remarks were made in the context of arguments advanced by advocate Dr. Abhinav Chandrachud on freedom of speech and expression.

The Bench which also comprised Justice MS Karnik was hearing a plea by Sunaina Holey, accused of passing objectionable comments against Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Cabinet Minister Aaditya Thackeray.

Dr. Chandrachud, representing Holey, was arguing on the importance of freedom of speech to express opinions against government officials, when the Bench opined that that individuals occupying positions of power must learn to tolerate criticism.

Extending the same yardstick to the judiciary, Justice Shinde said that courts should also learn to take critical opinions and statements against it.

He pointed out how the parliament has exclusive power to impeach a judge should they want to take an action against the judge.

However, if someone from the society makes a comment criticising a judge, then such criticism should be allowed, he added.

Judiciary must be open to criticism. Contempt is the last resort and weapon. Because precious judicial time is wasted on contempt hearings and important matters and question of law cannot get heard.
Justice SS Shinde

Chandrachud chimed in that people against whom action is taken get more attention than they would get otherwise. He gave an example of action being initiated against a comedian for statements which would have otherwise gone unnoticed, a veiled reference to stand up comedian Kunal Kamra against whom contempt of court is pending before Supreme Court.

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On the facts of the case, it was Chandrachud's argument that an opinion of an individual can be interpreted differently by different people.

He submitted that Holey was just trying to express her opinion using an "abusive epithet" which was merely an expression of emotion and not something objectionable.

He quoted from a United States Supreme Court judgment - "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric" to submit that what may seem objectionable to one person may not appear so to another.

Chandrachud also submitted that there was an element of malafide in the actions of the Mumbai police since they were targeting Holey who had certain ideologies and beliefs.

The Court however pointed out that "even in mature democracies, the freedom (freedom of speech) was not absolute".

"I have a fundamental right to exercise, however while exercising that right, I must ensure that my brother's right is not infringed. This is not happening in many cases. And then they come under Article 19 (of Constitution of India)," Justice Shinde remarked.

The case will be taken up next on December 17.

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