‘Judiciary’s dignity cannot be tarnished by irresponsible content’: Bom HC closes contempt case against person uploading contumacious content against Goa District Judiciary on YouTube & WhatsApp

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and M.S. Sonak, J., observed that,

“Court has the duty of protecting the interest of the community in the due administration of justice and, so, it is entrusted with the power to punish for its contempt.”

Petitioner pointed out that respondent 1 by making false and scurrilous allegations against some judicial officers of the District Judiciary and uploading the said content on YouTube and WhatsApp committed criminal contempt as defined under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

Further, he added that he obtained consent under Section 15 of the said Act from the Advocate General.

In view of the above background, the petitioner urged action against respondent 1.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Petitioner pointed that respondent 1 who was possibly based in the UK was in the habit of uploading videos on YouTube and WhatsApp Groups alleging that some of the members of the District Judiciary in Goa are corrupt.

Prima Facie, the content allegedly uploaded by respondent 1 was quite contumacious and might, if established, constitute criminal contempt.

Whether we ought to proceed any further in this matter or it is better to proceed with confidence in our institutions and our judicial officers who function to the best of their abilities without fear or favour?

Bench stated that the shoulders of this institution are broad enough to shrug off the scurrilous allegations.

“Dignity and authority of our judicial institutions are neither dependent on the opinions allegedly expressed by respondent 1 nor can the dignity our institution and its officers be tarnished by such stray slights or irresponsible content.”

High Court observed that inquiries made on the administrative side revealed the irresponsibility of the comments and the possible use of the uploader as a front by some disgruntled litigants.

Therefore, Court opined that to take this matter further might only serve to feed the publicity craze of those who uploaded the content to provoke rather than out of some concern to bring to fore some genuine grievance concerning the administration of justice in Goa.

Lord Denning summed up the above-stated approach in R V. Metropolitan Police Commr., (1968) 2 QB 150, Judge refused to be provoked by the scathing article by a Lawyer:

“Let me say at once that we will never use this jurisdiction as a means to uphold our own dignity. That must rest on surer foundations. All we would ask is that those who criticise us will remember that, from the nature of our office, we cannot reply to their criticisms. We cannot enter into public controversy. Still less into political controversy. We must rely on our conduct itself to be its own vindication.”

In the decision of Haridas v. Usha Rani Banik, (2007) 14 SCC 1, Court held that the majesty of law continues to hold its head high notwithstanding any scrullious attacks made by persons who feel that the law Courts will absorb anything and everything, including attacks on their honesty, integrity and impartiality. The Courts generally ignore irresponsible statements which are anything but legitimate criticism. This magnanimity is not its weakness but its strength.”

Another reference was made stating that the Chief Justice of the UK, deposing before the Phillimore Committee gave evidence to the following effect:

“Judges” backs have got to be a good deal broader than they were thought to be years ago.”

Lord Atkin also once said, “Courts are satisfied to leave to public opinion, attacks or comments derogatory or scandalous to them.”

Elaborating the above, Court stated that it is the people that have a vital stake in the free and effective administration of the Justice.

Concluding the matter, relying on the decision of Supreme Court in Delhi Judicial Service Assn. v. State of Gujarat, (1991) 4 SCC 406, it was held that the power to punish for contempt is to be only sparingly exercised, not to protect the dignity of the Court against insult or injury, but, to protect and vindicate the right of the people so that the administration of justice is not perverted, prejudiced, obstructed, or interfered with. [Kashinath Jairam Shetye v. David Clever, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 2235, decided on 18-08-2021]

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