Sail Vs. Madhya Pradesh High Court Bar Association & Ors  Insc
272 (21 April 2005)
& Tarun Chatterjee
Criminal Appeal Nos.403-404/2001 and 461-462/2001] Y.K. Sabharwal, J.
murder trial of Shankar Guha Niyogi, a trade union leader, the accused were
found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for life except one who was awarded
death sentence. On appeal, the High Court reversed the trial court judgment and
acquitted the accused. A news report was published in newspaper 'Hitavada' on 4th July, 1998 under the caption 'Sail terms High
Court decision in Niyogi murder case as rubbish'.
report was based on the speech delivered by appellant Rajendra Sail in a rally
organized to commemorate the death of Shankar Guha Niyogi and interview given
by him soon after the speech to appellant Ravi Pandey, the correspondent of the
news report termed the decision as rubbish and commented that a Judge who was
on verge of retirement should not have been entrusted with the responsibility
of dealing with such a crucial case. It was also alleged that the Judges who
decided the matter have belittled the respect for judiciary by pronouncing
biased and rubbish judgment. The news report also quoted Rajendra Sail as
saying that he was a key witness in the murder trial and in spite of engaging a
well known advocate as public prosecutor no body could have made much
difference when the judges were already prejudiced and that he had substantial
evidence to prove that one of the judges who decided the matter was bribed and
that the judge possessed properties disproportionate to his income.
aforesaid news item led to initiation of contempt action on an application
filed by Madhya Pradesh High Court Bar Association with the consent of Advocate
General against the Editor, Printer and Publisher, Chief Sub-Editor and Desk
In-charge of the newspaper at Bhilai besides Burea Chief of 'Hitavada' at Bhilai.
answer to contempt, while tendering unconditional and unqualified apologies, the
stand of the Editor and Printer and Publisher of the newspaper before the High
Court was that the news report was published on account of oversight and they
were unaware of the publication. It was further stated that even before receipt
of notice for contempt, on their own, they published unconditional apology in
the newspaper on the front page on 6th August. 1998. The letters of apology
were also sent to the Chief Justice and the concerned judges of the High Court
as well as to the Madhya Pradesh High Court Bar Association. The Chief
Sub-Editor and Desk-in-charge took the stand that the news report was received
from the trainee correspondent Ravi Pandey and he did not apply his mind
seriously to the news report as the page on which the said report was to be
printed was shown to him at the last stage of the printing deadline of that day
and under these circumstances he permitted the page to be printed and
Ravi Pandey took the stand that at the relevant time he was working as a
trainee correspondent and was present at the venue where Rajendra Sail
delivered the speech and had a conversation with him in which he reiterated the
substance of the speech delivered by him. He further pleaded that being a
trainee correspondent he was unaware of the legal implications of printing and
publishing against the judiciary and the judges. He stood by his stand that the
news report was based on the speech delivered and the subsequent conversation
he had with Rajendra Sail. An unconditional and unqualified apology was also
tendered by him.
Sail denied that he gave any interview to the correspondent and alleged that
the news report was false, prejudiced and intended to malign his image in the
eyes of judiciary and public. It was further stated that he was not satisfied
with the judgment of the High Court in Niyogi murder case and had only made a
bona fide analysis of the judgment without bringing into disrepute the
judiciary in general and the judges in particular. It was claimed that he
expressed only his personal grief and emotional trauma that arose out of the
murder of Shankar Guha Niyogi, who was his close associate and that he was also
a key prosecution witness in the murder trial. He further took the stand that
he is ready to tender an apology, if his plea does not satisfy the court.
High Court summoned the audio and video recording of the speech delivered by Rajendra
Sail as well as the transcript of the speech as contained in those recordings.
The Court directed the supply of the copies of the transcript to the contemnors
and gave opportunity to file objections. The contemptuous portions of the
transcript as extracted by the High court in its judgment contains statements
which go to say that,
Judgment of the murderers of Niyogi was rendered within a year and the
murderers have been acquitted because they were moneyed and wealthy people.
Judgment has been read by him, which is rubbish and is fit to be thrown in dust
bin (c) He would also get an enquiry held as regard to the conduct of one of
the judges who delivered the judgment, as that particular judge is to retire
within a month.
judge of High Court or Supreme Court who is about to retire should not be
assigned any important case since two years before his retirement, as a judge
who is to retire is for sale.
Judiciary has no guts, no honesty and is not powerful enough to punish wealthy
juxtaposing the news report with the audio and video recording as well as the
transcript of the speech, the High Court found that there was 'inkling' in Rajendra
Sail's speech about his thoughts regarding the judgment and the judges. The
court came to the conclusion that the attending circumstances i.e. the
recordings of the speech as well as the transcript goes to show that he had
conversation with the correspondent and the contemptuous statements reported in
the news report were in fact uttered by him. The High Court also concluded that
the comments made by him did not amount to fair and reasonable criticism of the
judgment and that the contents of the news report scandalized the court.
High Court, by the impugned judgment and order, refused to accept the apology
tendered by the contemnors and held the appellants guilty of contempt of court
and sentenced each of them to under go simple imprisonment for six months.
principles relating to the law of contempt are well settled.
been repeatedly held that the rule of law is the foundation of the democratic
society. The judiciary is the guardian of the rule of law. The confidence,
which the people repose in the courts of justice, cannot be allowed to be
tarnished, diminished or wiped out by contemptuous behaviour of any person. If
the judiciary is to perform its duties and functions effectively and true to
the spirit with which they are sacredly entrusted, the dignity and authority of
the courts have to be respected and protected at all costs. The foundation of
the judiciary is the trust and the confidence of the people in its ability to
deliver fearless and impartial justice. When the foundation itself is shaken by
acts which tend to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of the
court by creating distrust in its working, the edifice of the judicial system
gets eroded. It is for this purpose that the courts are entrusted with
extraordinary powers of punishing for contempt of court, those who indulge in
acts, which tend to undermine the authority of law and bring it in disrepute
and disrespect by scandalising it. When the court exercises this power, it does
not do so to vindicate the dignity and honour of the individual Judge who is
personally attacked or scandalised, but to uphold the majesty of the law and of
the administration of justice.
Law as it stands today is same as has been aptly put by Lord Atkin in Andre
Paul Terence Ambard v. Attorney-General [AIR 1936 PC 141] :
wrong is committed by any member of the public who exercises the ordinary right
of criticising in good faith in private or public the public act done in the
seat of justice. The path of criticism is a public way: the wrongheaded 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.
Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny
and respectful even though outspoken comments of ordinary men".
Kumar Ghose & Anr. v. Arabinda Bose & Anr. [AIR 1953 SC 75] it was held
that the Supreme Court is never over-sensitive to public criticism; but when
there is danger of grave mischief being done in the matter of administration of
justice, the animadversion cannot be ignored and viewed with placid equanimity.
The path of criticism is a public way:
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.
Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny
and respectful even though outspoken comments of ordinary men.
Brahma Prakash Sharma & Ors. v. The State of U.P. [AIR 1954 SC 10] it was
held that, if the publication of the disparaging statement is calculated to
interfere with the due course of justice or proper administration of law by
such court, it can be punished summarily as contempt is a wrong done to the
public. It will be injury to the public if it tends to create an apprehension
in the minds of the people regarding the integrity, ability or fairness of the
Judge or to deter actual and prospective litigants from placing complete
reliance upon the court's administration of justice, or if it is likely to
cause embarrassment in the mind of the Judge himself in the discharge of his
judicial duties. It is well established that it is not necessary to prove
affirmatively that there has been an actual interference with the
administration of justice by reason of such defamatory statement; it is enough
if it is likely, or tends in any way, to interfere with the proper
administration of law.
Perspective Publications Pvt. Ltd. & Anr. v. The State of Maharashtra [AIR
1971 SC 221], a bench of three judges after referring to the leading cases on
the subject held that :
The summary jurisdiction by way of contempt must be exercised with great care
and caution and only when its exercise is necessary for the proper
administration of law and justice.
is open to anyone to express fair, reasonable and legitimate criticism of any
act or conduct of a Judge in his judicial capacity or even to make a proper and
fair comment on any decision given by him because "justice is not a
cloistered virtue and she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and
respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men".
distinction must be made between a mere libel of defamation of a Judge and what
amounts to a contempt of the court.
test in each case would be whether the impugned publication is a mere
defamatory attack on the Judge or whether it is calculated to interfere with
the due course of justice or the proper administration of law by his court. It
is only in the latter case that it will be punishable as contempt.
Alternatively the test will be whether the wrong is done to the Judge
personally or it is done to the public. The publication of a disparaging
statement will be an injury to the public if it tends to create an apprehension
in the minds of the people regarding the integrity, ability or fairness of the
judge or to deter actual and prospective litigants from placing complete
reliance upon the court's administration of justice or if it is likely to cause
embarrassment in the mind of the judge himself in the discharge of his judicial
C.K. Daphtary & Ors. v. Shri O. P. Gupta & Ors. [(1971) 1 SCC 626] it
was said that, a scurrilous attack on a Judge in respect of a judgment or past
conduct has adverse effect on the due administration of justice. This sort of
attack in a country like ours has the inevitable effect of undermining the
confidence of the public in the Judiciary. If confidence in the Judiciary goes,
the due administration of justice definitely suffers.
can be no justification of contempt of Court.
C. Cooper v. Union of India [(1970) 2 SCC 298] giving a word of caution to those
who embark on the path of criticizing the judgment of the Court, it was said :
is no doubt that the Court like any other institution does not enjoy immunity
from fair criticism. This Court does not claim to be always right although it
does not spare any effort to be right according to the best of the ability,
knowledge and judgment of the Judges. They do not think themselves in
possession of all truth or hold that whenever others differ from them, it is so
far error. No one is more conscious of his limitations and fallibility than a
Judge but because of his training and the assistance he gets from learned
counsel he is apt to avoid mistakes more than others..... We are constrained to
say also that while fair and temperate criticism of this Court or any other
Court even if strong, may not be actionable, attributing improper motives, or
tending to bring Judges or Courts into hatred and contempt or obstructing
directly or indirectly with the functioning of Courts is serious contempt of
which notice must and will be taken. Respect is expected not only from those to
whom the judgment of the Court is acceptable but also from those to whom it is
repugnant. Those who err in their criticism by indulging in vilification of the
institution of Courts, administration of justice and the instruments through
which the administration acts, should take heed for they will act at their own
peril. We think this will be enough caution to persons embarking on the path of
criticism." In In re. S. Mulgaokar, [(1978) 3 SCC 339] a three judge bench
held, the judiciary is not immune from criticism but when that criticism is
based on obvious distortion or gross misstatement and made in a manner which is
designed to lower the respect of the judiciary and destroy public confidence in
it, it cannot be ignored.
N. Duda v. P. Shiv Shanker & Ors. [(1988) 3 SCC 167] it has been held that
administration of justice and Judges are open to public criticism and public
scrutiny. Judges have their accountability to the society and their
accountability must be judged by the conscience and oath to their office i.e.
to defend and uphold the Constitution and the laws without fear and favour. Any
criticism about the judicial system or the Judges which hampers the
administration of justice or which erodes the faith in the objective approach
of the Judges and brings administration of justice to ridicule must be
prevented. The contempt of court proceedings arise out of that attempt.
Judgments can be criticized, motives to the Judges need not be attributed, it
brings the administration of justice into deep disrepute.
in the administration of justice is one of the pillars on which democratic
institution functions and sustains. In the free market place of ideas criticism
about the judicial system or Judges should be welcome so long as such criticism
does not impair or hamper the administration of justice. In a democracy Judges
and courts alike are, therefore, subject to criticism and if reasonable
argument or criticism in respectful language and tempered with moderation is
offered against any judicial act as contrary to law or public good, no court
would treat criticism as a contempt of court.
Roshan Lal Ahuja [1993 Supp.(4) SCC 446], a three judge bench held, Judgments
of the court are open to criticism. Judges and courts are not unduly sensitive
or touchy to fair and reasonable criticism of their judgments. Fair comments,
even if, outspoken, but made without any malice or attempting to impair the
administration of justice and made in good faith in proper language don't
attract any punishment for contempt of court. However, when from the criticism
a deliberate, motivated and calculated attempt is discernible to bring down the
image of the judiciary in the estimation of the public or to impair the
administration of justice or tend to bring the administration of justice into
disrepute the courts must bester themselves to uphold their dignity and the
majesty of law. No litigant can be permitted to overstep the limits of fair,
bona fide and reasonable criticism of a judgment and bring the courts generally
in disrepute or attribute motives to the Judges rendering the judgment.
Perversity, calculated to undermine the judicial system and the prestige of the
court, cannot be permitted for otherwise the very foundation of the judicial
system is bound to be undermined and weakened and that would be bad not only
for the preservation of rule of law but also for the independence of judiciary.
Liberty of free expression is not to be confused with a licence to make
unfounded, unwarranted and irresponsible aspersions against the Judges or the
courts in relation to judicial matters. No system of justice can tolerate such
an unbridled licence. Of course "Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she
must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken,
comments of ordinary men", but the members of the public have to abstain
from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of
justice and exercise their right of free criticism without malice or in any way
attempting to impair to administration of justice and refrain from making any
comment which tends to scandalize the court in relation to judicial matters. If
a person committing such gross contempt of court were to get the impression
that he will get off lightly it would be a most unfortunate state of affairs.
Sympathy in such a case would be totally misplaced mercy has no meaning. His
action calls for deterrent punishment to that it also serves as an example to
others and there is no repetition of such contempt by any other person.
Ajay Kumar Pandey [(1996) 6 SCC 510], it has been held, any threat of filing a
complaint against the Judge in respect of the judicial proceedings conducted by
him in his own Court is a positive attempt to interfere with the due course of
administration of justice. In order that the Judges may fearlessly and
independently act in the discharge of their judicial functions, it is necessary
that they should have full liberty to act within the sphere of their activity.
If, however, litigants and their counsel start threatening the Judge or launch
prosecution against him for what he has honestly and bona fide done in his
Court, the judicial independence would vanish eroding the very edifice on which
the institution of justice stands.
DR.D.C. Saxena v Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India [(1996) 5 SCC 216] the
Court while dealing with the meaning of the word 'scandalising', held that it
is an expression of scurrilous attack on the majesty of justice which is
calculated to undermine the authority of the courts and public confidence in
the administration of justice. The malicious or slanderous publication
inculcates in the mind of the people a general disaffection and dissatisfaction
on the judicial determination and indisposes their mind to obey them. If the
people's allegiance to the law is so fundamentally shaken it is the most vital
and most dangerous obstruction of justice calling for urgent action. The court
further held that, "Scandalising the court, therefore, would mean hostile
criticism of Judges as Judges or judiciary.
personal attack upon a Judge in connection with the office he holds is dealt
with under law of libel or slander. Yet defamatory publication concerning the
Judge as a Judge brings the court or Judges into contempt, a serious impediment
to justice and an inroad on the majesty of justice.
caricature of a Judge calculated to lower the dignity of the court would
destroy, undermine or tend to undermine public confidence in the administration
of justice or the majesty of justice. It would, therefore, be scandalising the
Judge as a Judge, in other words, imputing partiality, corruption, bias,
improper motives to a Judge is scandalisation of the court and would be
contempt of the court. Even imputation of lack of impartiality or fairness to a
Judge in the discharge of his official duties amounts to contempt. The gravamen
of the offence is that of lowering his dignity or authority or an affront to
the majesty of justice.
the contemnor challenges the authority of the court, he interferes with the
performance of duties of Judge's office or judicial process or administration
of justice or generation or production of tendency bringing the Judge or
judiciary into contempt. Section 2(c) of the Act, therefore, defines criminal
contempt in wider articulation that any publication, whether by words, spoken
or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise of any
matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which scandalises or tends to scandalise,
or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court; or prejudices, or
interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial
proceeding; or interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to
obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner, is a criminal
a tendency to scandalise the court or tendency to lower the authority of the
court or tendency to interfere with or tendency to obstruct the administration
of justice in any manner or tendency to challenge the authority or majesty of
justice, would be a criminal contempt. The offending act apart, any tendency if
it may lead to or tends to lower the authority of the court is a criminal
contempt. Any conduct of the contemnor which has the tendency or produces a
tendency to bring the Judge or court into contempt or tends to lower the
authority of the court would also be contempt of the court."
R. Parashar, Advocate & Ors. v Prasant Bhushan, Advocate & Ors. [(2001)
6 SCC 735] the court has observed : "to ascribe motives to a Judge is to
sow the seed of distrust in the minds of the public about the administration of
justice as a whole and nothing is more pernicious in its consequences than to
prejudice the mind of the public against Judges of the court who are
responsible for implementing the law. Judges do not defend their decisions in
public and if citizens disrespect the persons laying down the law, they cannot
be expected to respect the law laid down by them. The only way the Judge can
defend a decision is by the reasoning in the decision itself and it is
certainly open to being criticized by anyone who thinks that it is
Arundhati Roy [(2002) 3 SCC 343] the court held, fair criticism of the conduct
of a Judge, the institution of the judiciary and its functioning may not amount
to contempt if it is made in good faith and in public interest. To ascertain
the good faith and the public interest, the courts have to see all the
surrounding circumstances including the person responsible for comments, his
knowledge in the field regarding which the comments are made and the intended
purpose sought to be achieved. All citizens cannot be permitted to comment upon
the conduct of the courts in the name of fair criticism which, if not checked,
would destroy the institution itself. Litigant losing in the court would be the
first to impute motives to the Judges and the institution in the name of fair
criticism, which cannot be allowed for preserving the public faith in an
important pillar of democratic set-up i.e. judiciary.
question whether there is contempt of court or not is a serious one.
court is both the accuser as well as the judge of the accusation. The court has
to act with as great circumspection. It is only when a clear case of
contemptuous conduct not explainable otherwise, arises that the contemnor must
Karim, Appellant v. M.K. Prakash & Ors. [(1976) 1 SCC 975] a three judge
bench held, the broad test to determine whether there is contempt of court or
not, is to see whether the act complained of was calculated to obstruct or had
an intrinsic tendency to interfere with the course of justice and the due
administration of law. The standard of proof required for establishing a charge
of 'criminal contempt' is the same as in any other criminal proceeding. Even if
it could be urged that mens rea as such, is not an indispensable ingredient of
the offence of contempt, the courts are loath to punish a contemnor, if the act
or omission complained of, was not willful.
& Ors. v. Dr.Farooq Abdullah & Ors. [(1984) 2 SCC 343] contempt
petition was filed against the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir for making
certain contemptuous statements against the judiciary and the Editor and the
correspondent of a newspaper in which those statements were published
correspondent. The Chief Minister denied to have made the statements, as the
Editor asserted that the reports of the speeches published in his newspaper are
true. The court held that in the absence of any preponderant circumstances
which, objectively, compel the acceptance of the word of one in preference to
the word of the other, it was unable to record a positive finding that the
allegation that the Chief Minister made the particular statements is proved
beyond a reasonable doubt.
Das & Anr. v. Sayed Hasibur Rahaman & Ors. [(2001) 3 SCC 739] the court
held that a proceeding under the extraordinary jurisdiction of the court in
terms of the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act is quasi-criminal, and as
such, the standard of proof required is that of a criminal proceeding and the
breach shall have to be established beyond reasonable doubt. The Court quoted
with approval the following observations of Lord Denning in Bramblevale Ltd. Re
[(1969) 3 All ER 1062 (CA)] :
contempt of court is an offence of a criminal character. A man may be sent to
prison for it. It must be satisfactorily proved. To use the time- honoured
phrase, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. It is not proved by showing
that, when the man was asked about it, he told lies.
must be some further evidence to incriminate him. Once some evidence is given,
then his lies can be thrown into the scale against him. But there must be some
there are two equally consistent possibilities open to the court, it is not
right to hold that the offence is proved beyond reasonable doubt." This
legal position has been reiterated in the subsequent line of cases namely, Chhotu
Ram v. Urvashi Gulati & Anr. [(2001) 7 SCC 530]; Anil Ratan Sarkar v Hirak Ghosh
[(2002) 4 SCC 21]; Radha Mohan Lal v. Rajasthan High Court (Jaipur Bench)
[(2003) 3 SCC 427]; Bijay Kumar Mahanty v. Jadu Alias Ram Chandra Sahoo [AIR
2003 SC 657].
this factual and legal background, we would consider the submissions made in
support of these appeals.
learned counsel appearing for the editor, printer and publisher and the Chief
sub-editor has very candidly not made any attempt to justify the actions of the
newspaper in publishing the news report. Learned counsel has only argued for
acceptance of the apology. Learned counsel submits that the appellants tendered
apology on 6th August, 1998 by publishing it prominently in the front page of Hitavada,
even before the receipt of notice of initiation of contempt action. It was
pointed out that the notice of contempt though issued on 13th June, 1998 was
received only on 11th August, 1998. The letters of apology were sent to the
Chief Justice of the High Court and to the concerned judges as well as to the
Madhya Pradesh High Court Bar Association before receipt of contempt notice.
counsel further submits that the act of newspaper functionaries of having
immediately tendered the apology admitting their mistake shows that there was
no intention to scandalise the judiciary but it was case of genuine error on
reach of media, in present times of 24 hours channels, is to almost every nook
and corner of the world. Further, large number of people believe as correct
which appears in media, print or electronic. It is also necessary to always
bear in mind that the judiciary is the last resort of redressal for resolution
of disputes between State and subject, and high and law. The confidence of
people in the institute of judiciary is necessary to be preserved at any cost.
That is its main asset. Loss of confidence in institution of judiciary would be
end of Rule of law. Therefore, any act which has such tendency deserves to be
firmly curbed. For rule of law and orderly society, a free responsible press
and independent judiciary are both indispensable. Both have to be, therefore,
judgments of courts are public documents and can be commented upon, analyzed
and criticized, but it has to be in dignified manner without attributing
motives. Before placing before public, whether on print or electronic media,
all concerned have to see whether any such criticism has crossed the limits as
aforesaid and if it has, then resist every temptation to make it public. In
every case, it would be no answer to plead that publication, publisher, editor
or other concerned did not know or it was done in haste. Some mechanism may
have to be devised to check the publication which has the tendency to undermine
the institution of judiciary.
the general mechanism to be devised, it may be noted that in United Kingdom,
Robertson & Nicol on Media Law expresses the view that media's self
regulation has failed in United Kingdom. According to the author, blatant
examples of unfair and unethical media behaviour like damaging reputation by
publishing falsehoods, invasion of privacy and conducting partisan campaigns
towards individuals and organisations have led to demands for more statutory
controls, which media industries have sought to avoid by trumpeting the virtues
of "self regulation". The media industry has established tribunals
that affect to regulate media ethics through adjudicating complaints by members
of the public who claim to have been unfairly treated by journalists and
editors. Complaints about newspapers and journals may be made to the Press
Complaints Commission, a private body funded by newspaper proprietors. The
Press Complaints Commission has formulated a Code of Practice to be followed by
the press. It has no legal powers, but its adjudications will be published by
the paper complained against, albeit usually in small print and without
prominence. The Press Complaints Commission has been regarded as public
relations operation, funded by media industries to give the impression to
Parliament that the media organizations can really put their houses in ethical
order without the need for legislation. Similarly the National Union of
Journalists has a code for its members, which they are all expected to follow.
However, the code is seldom enforced.
noted the views as aforesaid, in the present case, it is enough to only note
that we too have Press Council. The only aspect, we wish to emphasis is that
the present matter reinforces the need to ensure that the right of freedom of
media is exercised responsibly. It is for media itself and other concerned to
consider as how to achieve it.
the institution like judiciary which cannot go public, media can consider
having an internal mechanism to prevent these types of publications. There can
be an efficient and stringent mechanism to scrutinize the news reports
pertaining to such institutions which because of the nature of their office
cannot reply to publications which have tendency to bring disrespect and
disrepute to those institutions. As already noted such publications are likely
to be believed as true. Such a mechanism can be the answer to pleas like the
one in the present case by Editor, Printer and Publisher and correspondent that
either they did not know or it was done in a hurry and similar pleas and defences.
power and reach of the media, both print as well as electronic is tremendous.
It has to be exercised in the interest of the public good. A free press is one
of very important pillar on which the foundation of Rule of Law and democracy
rests. At the same time, it is also necessary that freedom must be exercised
with utmost responsibility. It must not be abused. It should not be treated as
a licence to denigrate other institutions. Sensationalism is not unknown. Any
attempt to make news out of nothing just for the sake of sensitization has to
there is temptation to sensationalize particularly at the expense of those
institutions or persons who form the nature of the office cannot reply, such
temptation has to be resisted and if not it would be the task of the law to
give clear guidance as to what is and what is not permitted.
the media can, in the public interest, resort to reasonable criticism of a judicial
act or the judgment of a court for public good or report any such statements;
it should refrain from casting scurrilous aspersions on, or impute improper
motives or personal bias to the judge. Nor should they scandalize the court or
the judiciary as a whole, or make personal allegations of lack of ability or
integrity against a judge. It should be kept in mind that Judges do not defend
their decisions in public and if citizens disrespect the persons laying down
the law, they cannot be expected to respect the law laid down by them. The only
way the Judge can defend a decision is by the reasoning in the decision itself
and it is certainly open to being criticized by anyone who thinks that it is
court on an earlier occasion in Re Harijai Singh & Anr. [(1996) 6 SCC 466]
held the Editor, Printer and Publisher and Reporter guilty of publishing a
false report against a senior judge of the Supreme Court. The Court expressed
its displeasure at the irresponsible conduct and attitude on the part of the
editor, publisher and the reporter who failed to make reasonable enquiry or a
simple verification of the alleged statement. The Court held that this cannot
be regarded as a public service, but a disservice to the public by misguiding
them with false news. However, the Court accepted the unconditional apology
tendered by the editor, printer and publisher and reporter with a warning that
they should be careful in future.
to the present case, we have noted hereinbefore the stand of Editor, Printer
and Publisher and Chief Sub-editor including the fact that they had accepted
their mistakes at the earliest and tendered unconditional apologies, Reporter
has also tendered his unconditional apology pleading that as a trainee, he was
not aware of the legal implications. Having regard to the facts and legal
principles above noticed, their apologies deserve to be accepted with a caution
that in future they should be more careful and responsible in exercise of their
duty towards the public, in providing fair, accurate and impartial information.
In this view, sentence awarded to them is set aside.
counsel appearing for the appellant, Rajendra Sail also submits that the
apology tendered by his client too deserves to be accepted. He submits that the
statements made by Rajendra Sail should be understood in the context in which
the same were made. The context pointed out is that Rajendra Sail was a close
associate of Mr.Shankar Guha Niyogi, who was murdered and he was a key
prosecution witness in the murder trial; he was emotionally disturbed because
of the judgment of the High Court; the news report was intended to malign his
image and he had lodged a complaint against this with the Press Council of
counsel further submits that Rajendra Sail neither made statements nor gave
interview attributed to him and that the conclusions reached by the High Court
that he did not deny having termed the decision of the High Court as rubbish is
not sustainable. Learned counsel further contends that the charge that was
communicated to the appellant was only about the contents of the news report
and the contemptuous statements extracted in the judgment of the High Court
were not part of the news report. The audio and video recordings on which
conclusions of the High Court are based were never put to him, the same were
not part of the record and no opportunity was granted to rebut the contents of
the audio and video recording and, therefore, the contents thereof cannot be
taken as proof of the statements contained in the news report. The appellant
tendered an unconditional apology during the course of the arguments and urged
for its acceptance.
counsel appearing for the Madhya Pradesh High Court Bar Association, supporting
the impugned judgment, submits that having regard to the nature of scandalous
statements that were made, it is not a case where the apology should be
accepted. In support of his contention he relied on the following decisions, Prem
Surana v. Additional Munsif & Judicial Magistrate & Anr. [(2002) 6 SCC
722]; M.C. Mehta v. Union of India & Ors. In The Matter Of: M/s. Ashok Chhabra
& Co.[(2003) 5 SCC 376].
issue as to whether the alleged statements amount to contempt or not does not
present any difficulty in the present case. If the conclusions reached by the
High Court are correct, there can be little doubt that it is serious case of
scandalizing the Court and not a case of fair criticism of a judgment.
Undoubtedly, judgments are open to criticism. No criticism of a judgment, however
vigorous, can amount to contempt of Court, provided it is kept within the
limits of reasonable courtesy and good faith. Fair and reasonable criticism of
a judgment which is a public document or which is a public act of a Judge
concerned with administration of justice would not constitute contempt. Such a
criticism may fairly assert that the judgment is incorrect or an error has been
committed both with regard to law or established facts.
one thing to say that a judgment on facts as disclosed is not in consonance
with evidence or the law has not been correctly applied. But when it is said
that the Judge had a pre-disposition to acquit the accused because he had
already resolved to acquit them or has a bias or has been bribed or attributing
such motives, lack of dispassionate and objective approach and analysis and
prejudging of the issues, the comments that a judge about to retire is
available for sale, that an enquiry will be conducted as regards the conduct of
the judge who delivered the judgment as he is to retire within a month and a
wild allegation that judiciary has no guts, no honesty and is not powerful
enough to punish wealthy people would bring administration of justice into
ridicule and disrepute. The speech that judgment is rubbish and deserves to be
thrown in a dustbin cannot be said to be a fair criticism of judgment. These
comments have transgressed the limits of fair and bonafide criticism and have a
clear tendency to affect the dignity and prestige of the judiciary. It has a
tendency to create an apprehension in the minds of the people regarding the
integrity, ability or fairness of the Judge and to deter actual and prospective
litigants from placing complete reliance upon the court's administration of
justice, it is also likely to cause embarrassment in the mind of the Judge
himself in the discharge of his judicial duties.
there is danger of grave mischief being done in the matter of administration of
justice, the animadversion cannot be ignored and viewed with placid equanimity.
If the criticism is likely to interfere with due administration of justice or
undermine the confidence which the public reposes in the Courts of law as
Courts of justice, the criticism would cease to be fair and reasonable
criticism but would scandalise Courts and substantially interfere with
administration of justice. Having perused the record, we are unable to accept
the contention urged on behalf of Mr. Rajendra Sail that on facts the
conclusions arrived at by the High Court are not sustainable. Once this conclusion
is reached, clearly the publication amounts to a gross contempt of court. It
has serious tendency to undermine the confidence of the society in the
news report was based on the speech delivered by Rajendra Sail and the subsequent
interview given to the correspondent. The correspondent has asserted that the
news report was based on the speech delivered by Rajendra Sail and the
subsequent interview. Rajendra Sail has, however, denied having made the
statement or having given interview to the correspondent. There are
preponderant circumstances, which objectively compel us to conclude that the
said statements were in fact made by Rajendra Sail and the news report has
reported the same.
Rajendra Sail gave interview to the correspondent or not, the speech itself,
seen in the light of the audio and video recording of the speech and the
transcript of the speech speaks for itself and has the effect of lowering the
dignity and authority of the court and an affront to the majesty of justice.
contention that no opportunity was given to rebut the contents of the audio and
video recording of the speech cannot be accepted because the court has, in
fact, directed supply of copies of transcript of the speech prepared from the
audio and video recording and had given opportunity to file objections to it,
which has not been availed by Rajendra Sail.
regard to the aforesaid facts of the case, the High Court has refused to accept
the apology tendered by Rajendra Sail. The contention that statements should be
understood in the context in which they have been made as he was emotionally
disturbed because of the judgment of the High court cannot be accepted. It is
borne out from record that Rajendra Sail is a law graduate and has been in
public life for considerable time and has in fact approached the court on
several occasions by filing public interest litigations in different matters.
With this background, he should have been cautious and moderate and should have
known the limits upto which he could go while criticizing the judgment of the
High Court. The contemptuous statements cannot be regarded as an ill- tempered
or emotional outburst of an uninformed person. Having given the serious and
anxious consideration to the facts of the case and submissions made, we feel
that the acceptance of apology and sympathy in a case like this would be
sentence awarded to Rajendra Sail by the High Court having regard to nature of
contempt cannot be said to be unjustified. But having regard to his background
and the organization to which he belongs which, it is claimed, brought before
various courts including this court many public interest litigation for general
public good, we feel that ends of justice would be met if sentence of six month
is reduced to sentence of one week simple imprisonment. We order accordingly.
view of the above, sentence awarded to the appellants other than Rajendra Sail
is set aside and their apologies accepted and their appeals allowed
accordingly. The sentence of Rajendra Sail is reduced to one week and to that
extent impugned judgment and order of the High Court is modified and appeal
disposed of accordingly.