While addressing the gathering, the Appellants made scandalous statements against the High Court which were published in Lok Sammat newspaper on 24.02.2001 – Appellant No. 1 – “Ex MLA Het Ram Beniwal said that, there are two types of justice in the courts. A thief of Rs.100/- cannot get bail, if the lathi and gandasi is hit then the courts ask for the statements of the witnesses and diary, but Miglani and Gurdayal Singh committed the murder, even then anticipatory bail had been taken on the application without diary.” Appellant No. 2 – “Navrang Chaudhary, Advocate, District President, CITU said that the general public has lost confidence in the law and justice.” Appellant No. 3 – “MCP Leader Bhuramal Swami naming the judge of the High Court said in attacking way that all around there is rule of rich people whether it is bureaucracy or judiciary.” Appellant No. 4 – “Sarpanch Hardeep Singh told that there was influence of money behind the anticipatory bail of the accused.”= “Ordinarily, the Court would not use the power to punish for contempt for curbing the right of freedom of speech and expression, which is guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. Only when the criticism of judicial institution transgresses all limits of decency and fairness or there is total lack of objectivity or there is deliberate attempt to denigrate the institution then the court would use this power. – The statements made by the Appellants, accusing the judiciary of corruption lower the authority of the Court. The Explanation to sub-Section 12 (1) of the Act provides that an apology should not be rejected merely on the ground that it is qualified or tendered at a belated stage, if the accused makes it bona fide. The stand taken by the Appellants in the contempt petition and the affidavit filed in this Court does not inspire any confidence that the apology is made bona fide. After a detailed consideration of the submissions made by both sides and the evidence on record, we are in agreement with the judgment of the High Court that the Appellants are guilty of committing contempt of Court. After considering the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case including the fact that the contemptuous statements were made in 2001, we modify the sentence to only payment of fine of Rs. 2,000/- each. The Appeal is dismissed with the said modification.= 2016 Oct. http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgst.aspx?filename=44257

NON-REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 463 of 2006
HET RAM BENIWAL & ORS.
…. Appellant(s)
Versus

RAGHUVEER SINGH & ORS.

….Respondent(s)
With
CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 464 of 2006
BHURAMAL SWAMI
…. Appellant(s)
Versus

RAGHUVEER SINGH & ORS.

….Respondent(s)

J U D G M E N T
L. NAGESWARA RAO, J.
The Appellants were found guilty of committing contempt by the High
Court of Judicature for Rajasthan at Jodhpur. Simple imprisonment of two
months and fine of Rs. 2,000/- each was imposed. Aggrieved by the said
judgment, the Appellants have filed these Criminal Appeals.
The Appellants along with Sheopat Singh belong to the Marxist Communist
Party. Sheopat Singh died during the pendency of these proceedings. It is
relevant to mention that Appellants Nos. 2 and 3 are advocates. A prominent
trade union activist of Sri Ganganagar District Shri Darshan Koda was
murdered on 18.12.2000. Some of the accused were granted anticipatory bail
in February, 2001 by the High Court of Rajasthan. The Appellants addressed
a huge gathering of their party workers in front of the Collectorate at Sri
Ganganagar on 23.02.2001. While addressing the gathering, the Appellants
made scandalous statements against the High Court which were published in
Lok Sammat newspaper on 24.02.2001. The offending statements made by the
Appellants (from the translated version) are summarized as under:
Appellant No. 1 – “Ex MLA Het Ram Beniwal said that, there are two types of
justice in the courts. A thief of Rs.100/- cannot get bail, if the lathi
and gandasi is hit then the courts ask for the statements of the witnesses
and diary, but Miglani and Gurdayal Singh committed the murder, even then
anticipatory bail had been taken on the application without diary.”
Appellant No. 2 – “Navrang Chaudhary, Advocate, District President, CITU
said that the general public has lost confidence in the law and justice.”
Appellant No. 3 – “MCP Leader Bhuramal Swami naming the judge of the High
Court said in attacking way that all around there is rule of rich people
whether it is bureaucracy or judiciary.”
Appellant No. 4 – “Sarpanch Hardeep Singh told that there was influence of
money behind the anticipatory bail of the accused.”
The Advocate General gave his consent to Respondent No.1 for initiation of
contempt proceedings on 16.01.2002. Thereafter, Respondent No.1 filed a
Contempt Petition in the High Court. It was stated by Respondent No. 1 in
the contempt petition that baseless allegations of bias and corruption were
made by the Appellants against the judiciary. He also alleged that the
Appellants were guilty of a systematic campaign to destroy the public
confidence in the judiciary.
The Appellants filed a common counter denying the allegations made against
them. The appointment of the Special Public Prosecutor in the case of the
murder of Shri Darshan Koda was in dispute and the Appellants contended
that they were agitating for appointment of another competent lawyer as
Special Public Prosecutor. They accused Respondent No.1 of initiating
contempt proceedings only to harass and victimize them as they were
agitating for a change of the Special Public Prosecutor. They denied
making any defamatory statements against the judiciary. A compact disc
(CD) was produced on 15.07.2003 which was a video recording of a press
conference held on 15.05.2002 at Sri Ganganagar by the third Appellant and
Sheopat Singh. The said press conference was also telecast on ETV
(Rajasthan). The High Court viewed the CD after taking consent from both
sides in the presence of the third Appellant and Sheopat Singh. The High
Court directed a transcript of the video to be prepared and be kept on
record.
The High Court framed three questions for consideration which are as
follows:

“Whether statement published in “Lok Sammat” dtd. 24.2.2001 published from
Sri Ganganagar amounts to criminal contempt?

Whether editor’s liability for whatever is published in the newspaper is
absolute or he is not liable for faithful reproduction of the statement
made by somebody else in the news reporting?

Whether it is proved beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of material on
record that respondents No.2 to 6 did make the statements attributed to
them respectively so as to hold them liable for contempt?”
In view of the disparaging remarks made by the Appellants against the
judges of the Rajasthan High Court, the High Court held that the statement
published in Lok Sammat on 24.02.2001 amounts to criminal contempt. The
scathing remarks made by the Appellants have a tendency of creating a doubt
in the minds of the public about the impartiality, integrity and fairness
of the High Court in administering justice. According to the High Court,
the scurrilous attack made by the Appellants against the judiciary lowers
the authority of the Court.
In view of the unconditional apology tendered at the earliest point of time
by Respondent No. 1, the Editor of Lok Sammat, the High Court discharged
the notices against him in the contempt petition. The High Court answered
the third point against the Appellants and held them guilty of contempt as
the case was proved against them beyond reasonable doubt. The entire
evidence on record was scrutinized carefully by the High Court to reach
this conclusion. The press conference held by the third Appellant was
highlighted by the High Court to conclude that the highly objectionable
statements were, in fact, made by the Appellants on 23.02.2001. As the
Appellants denied having made any statements against the judiciary in their
reply to the contempt petition, the journalists demanded an explanation.
The third Appellant stated that they stood by what was said on 23.02.2001.
The High Court held the Appellants guilty of committing criminal contempt
and sentenced them to simple imprisonment of two months and fine of Rs.
2000/- each.
We have heard Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Advocate for the Appellants. As
Respondent No. 1 who was the petitioner in the contempt petition was
unrepresented, we requested Ms. Aishwarya Bhati, Advocate to assist the
Court to which she readily agreed. Apart from making oral submissions Ms.
Bhati also gave a written note. Mr. Bhushan submitted that statements
attributed to the Appellants only represent fair criticism which would not
amount to contempt. According to him, the Appellants were in an agitated
mood due to the murder of one of their leaders and the mishandling of the
criminal case connected to that murder. Criticism of class bias and
improper administration of justice cannot be considered to be contempt. He
referred to a statement attributed to the fourth Appellant who alleged
influence of money in the grant of anticipatory bail to the accused and
explained that statement as having been made in a different context
altogether. He stated that the influence of money was against the
authorities and police force and not attributed to the judiciary. He also
stated that the statement made by the third Appellant who named the judge
who granted anticipatory bail and accused the judiciary of being partial to
rich people does not tantamount to contempt. Strong reliance was placed on
Indirect Tax Practitioners Association v. R. K. Jain, reported in (2010) 8
SCC 281 by Mr. Bhushan to contend that the Courts should not be sensitive
to fair criticism. He also stated that the power of punishing for contempt
has to be exercised sparingly.
Ms. Aishwarya Bhati, the learned Amicus Curiae, submitted that the judgment
of the High Court does not warrant any interference as the entire evidence
was dealt with in detail. She submitted that all the relevant factors were
taken into account by the High Court including the statements made by the
Appellants which ex facie demonstrated contempt, the stand of the editor of
the newspaper that they have scrupulously and correctly reported the
statements in the newspaper and non denial of the Appellants addressing the
public meeting at the Collectorate of Sri Ganganagar. She also submitted
that the High Court took note of the press conference of the third
Appellant and Sheopat Singh on 15.05.2002 and the affidavits of 5
journalists and one deed writer who were witness to the meeting on
23.02.2001. She placed reliance on a judgment of this Court reported in
Bal Kishan Giri v. State of Uttar Pradesh, reported in (2014) 7 SCC 280 to
contend that vituperative comments undermining the judiciary would amount
to contempt. She also relied upon Vijay Kumar Singh v. Union of India,
reported in (2014) 16 SCC 460 to contend that the apology was made only for
the purpose of avoiding punishment and was not bona fide. To avoid
prolixity, we are not referring to other judgments cited by the learned
Amicus Curiae. She referred to the affidavits filed by the Appellants in
this Court apologizing for the statements and even they do not demonstrate
any genuine contrition. She submitted that an apology by the contemnors
should be tendered at the earliest opportunity and it should be
unconditional.
Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 (hereinafter referred to
as ‘the Act’) defines criminal contempt as follows:
“2. Definitions. In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires,
(c) “criminal contempt” means the publication (whether by words, spoken or
written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any
matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which –
(i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the
authority of, any court; or
(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course
of any judicial proceeding; or
(iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to
obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner;”

Section 5 of the Act is as under:

“5.Fair criticism of judicial act not contempt.

“A person shall not be guilty of contempt of court for publishing any
fair comment on the merits of any case which has been heard and finally
decided.”

Section 12 of the Act is as under:

“12. Punishment for contempt of court (1) Save as otherwise expressly
provided in this Act or in any other law, a contempt of court may be
punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six
months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both.
Provided that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded
may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.

Explanation.-An apology shall not be rejected merely on the ground
that it is qualified or conditional if the accused makes it bona fide.

(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being
in force, no court shall impose a sentence in excess of that specified in
sub-section (1) for any contempt either in respect of itself or of a court
subordinate to it.

(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in this section, where a
person is found guilty of a civil contempt, the court, if it considers that
a fine will not meet the ends of justice and that a sentence of
imprisonment is necessary shall, instead of sentencing him to simple
imprisonment, direct that he be detained in a civil prison for such period
not exceeding six months as it may think fit.

(4) Where the person found guilty of contempt of court in respect of any
undertaking given to a court is a company, every person who, at the time
the contempt was committed, was in charge of, and was responsible to, the
company for the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the
company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the contempt and the punishment
may be enforced, with the leave of the court, by the detention in civil
prison of each such person:

Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any
such person liable to such punishment if he proves that the contempt was
committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to
prevent its commission.

(5) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (4), where the
contempt of court referred to therein has been committed by a company and
it is proved that the contempt has been committed with the consent or
connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any
director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such
director, manager, secretary or other officer shall also be deemed to be
guilty of the contempt and the punishment may be enforced with the leave of
the court, by the detention in civil prison of such director, manager,
secretary or other officer.

Explanation.-For the purpose of sub-sections (4) and (5),-

(a)” company” means anybody corporate and includes a firm or other
association of individuals ; and

(b) “director”, in relation to a firm, means a partner in the firm.
We are, in the present case, concerned with Section 2(c)(i) of the Act
which deals with scandalizing or lowering the authority of the Court. It
has been held by this Court that judges need not be protected and that they
can take care of themselves. It is the right and interest of the public in
the due administration of justice that have to be protected. See Asharam M.
Jain v. A. T. Gupta, reported in (1983) 4 SCC 125. Vilification of judges
would lead to the destruction of the system of administration of justice.
The statements made by the Appellants are not only derogatory but also have
the propensity to lower the authority of the Court. Accusing judges of
corruption results in denigration of the institution which has an effect of
lowering the confidence of the public in the system of administration of
justice. A perusal of the allegations made by the Appellants cannot be
termed as fair criticism on the merits of the case. The Appellants
indulged in an assault on the integrity of the judges of the High Court by
making baseless and unsubstantiated allegations. They are not entitled to
seek shelter under Section 5 of the Act.
The oft-quoted passage from Ambard v. Attorney-General for Trinidad and
Tobago, [1936] A.C. 322 is that “[j]ustice is not a cloistered virtue: she
must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful even though outspoken
comments of ordinary men.” The Privy Council in the same judgment held as
follows: “The path of criticism is a public way: the wrong headed are
permitted to err therein: provided that members of the public abstain from
imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of
justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism, and not acting
in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice, they are
immune.” [Emphasis ours]

In Indirect Tax Practitioners Association v. R. K. Jain (supra) this Court
held in paragraph 23 as follows:

“Ordinarily, the Court would not use the power to punish for contempt for
curbing the right of freedom of speech and expression, which is guaranteed
under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. Only when the criticism of
judicial institution transgresses all limits of decency and fairness or
there is total lack of objectivity or there is deliberate attempt to
denigrate the institution then the court would use this power.”
Every citizen has a fundamental right to speech, guaranteed under Article
19 of the Constitution of India. Contempt of Court is one of the
restrictions on such right. We are conscious that the power under the Act
has to be exercised sparingly and not in a routine manner. If there is a
calculated effort to undermine the judiciary, the Courts will exercise
their jurisdiction to punish the offender for committing contempt. We
approve the findings recorded by the High Court that the Appellants have
transgressed all decency by making serious allegations of corruption and
bias against the High Court. The caustic comments made by the Appellants
cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be termed as fair criticism. The
statements made by the Appellants, accusing the judiciary of corruption
lower the authority of the Court. The Explanation to sub-Section 12 (1)
of the Act provides that an apology should not be rejected merely on the
ground that it is qualified or tendered at a belated stage, if the accused
makes it bona fide. The stand taken by the Appellants in the contempt
petition and the affidavit filed in this Court does not inspire any
confidence that the apology is made bona fide. After a detailed
consideration of the submissions made by both sides and the evidence on
record, we are in agreement with the judgment of the High Court that the
Appellants are guilty of committing contempt of Court. After considering
the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case including the fact that
the contemptuous statements were made in 2001, we modify the sentence to
only payment of fine of Rs. 2,000/- each. The Appeal is dismissed with the
said modification.
Criminal Appeal No. 464 of 2006, which concerns the same facts as reported
in another newspaper, stands disposed of in terms of Criminal Appeal No.463
of 2006.
We record our appreciation for the assistance rendered by Ms. Aishwarya
Bhati, Advocate as Amicus Curiae.
.………………………….J.
[ANIL R. DAVE]

…………………………..J.
[L. NAGESWARA RAO]

New Delhi,
October 21, 2016

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