Punjab and Haryana High Court: The Court on its own motion through the Division Bench of G.S. Sandhawalia* and Harpreet Kaur Jeewan, JJ. issued contempt notice under Section 14 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (‘the Act’) to the already dismissed Deputy Superintendent of Punjab Police, Balwinder Singh Sekhon for circulating malicious, libelous and derogatory videos pertaining to the judicial proceedings conducted by the Judges of Punjab and Haryana High Court, thereby ordering his arrest for committing criminal contempt in the presence and hearing of the Court.
It may be noted that Balwinder Singh Sekhon’s dismissal from Punjab Police was also done for making unpleasant remarks against the Government through social media.
The Court, while hearing Court on its Own Motion v. State of Punjab, CWP No. 20359 of 2013, came to know about the large number of malicious, libelous and derogatory videos that were circulated by Balwinder Singh, prior to the listing of the contentious matters before Benches. The Court observed that the videos and press conferences contain their observations on how the proceedings are to be conducted while levelling allegations of financial misdemeanor, judges facing political pressure and the contents of sealed reports before the Court. Baljit Marwaha, Channel Reporter in Scroll Punjab News Channel uploaded another video abusing the Judges.
The videos also contain disparaging remarks on the judgments being reserved and written after two months for bargaining and buying time as noted by the Court. The Court pointed towards Balwinder Singh Sekhon avoiding Court summons and the respondents’ warning of initiating more derogatory episodes by sharpening their words in future and propagating the issue in a manner that could not be dreamt of forcing the Court to initiate the contempt proceedings.
The Court derived its powers from the observations of the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2015) 5 SCC 1 for ordering the designated officer to take appropriate action as directed by the Court. The Court also mentioned the directions issued in Swami Ramdev v. Facebook, 2019 SCC OnLine Del 10701 for global blocking of access of all videos circulated by the said persons.
The respondents have fallen foul of Sections 2(c)(i) to (iii) of the Act as depicted by the words used by the Court: “By putting forth material on the social sites, they have not only by visible representation scandalised and lowered the authority of this Court and have interfered with the course of judicial proceedings and gone on to obstruct the administration of justice”. The Court also added that such videos when uploaded on social platforms at the international level bring disrepute to the Constitutional Institution virtually inciting the public against rule of law.
The Court commented that “Freedom of speech and expression is protected under the Constitution of India, but it is not an unfettered right and as much there are constitutional rights, there are duties also enshrined upon the citizens of the country.”
The Court held that the two respondents are guilty of criminal contempt of Court in its presence, and they need to be detained in custody before pending determination of the charge. Thus, the Court directed the Commissioner of Police to arrest dismissed DSP Balwinder Singh Sekhon and another. The Court also directed Facebook, YouTube and Twitter authorities to remove, restrict, block or disable global access to all the videos/web links/URLs videos uploaded from I.P. addresses pertaining to Balwinder Singh Sekhon and another or any other press channel pertaining to Court proceedings. The Court also directed the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology and authorities of the Union Territory for taking appropriate steps to block public access regarding videos aired/circulated by the respondents.
[Court on its Own Motion v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine P&H 146, interim order dated 20-02-2023]
*Judgment authored by: Justice G.S. Sandhawalia