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Report No. 24

12. Contempt of Commission.-

(1) Secondly, it has been suggested to us by Judges who have presided over some Commissions of Inquiry that the Commission should have power to punish for contempt. It seems that in the past, some members of Commissions of Inquiry have been subjected to scurrilous attacks in the press and elsewhere but the Commissions have not been able to punish them. It is contended that no Commission of Inquiry can effectively function if its authority is flouted or irresponsible comments are made in the press and elsewhere during the course of the inquiry on the personnel of the Commission or on the subject-matter of the Inquiry.

We are, however, faced in this matter with a Constitutional difficulty. In the case of Dalmia v. Mr. Justice Tendolkar, (1959) SCR 279 (293): AIR 1958 SC 538, the Supreme Court has held that a Commission appointed under the Act does not perform any judicial functions. In the words of the Supreme Court:

"The Commission has no power of adjudication in the sense of passing an order which can be enforced proprio vigore. A clear distinction must, on the authorities, be drawn between a decision which, by itself, has no force and no penal effect and a decision which becomes enforceable immediately or which may become enforceable by some action being taken. Therefore, as the Commission what we are concerned with is merely to investigate and record its findings and recommendations without having any power to enforce them, the inquiry or report cannot be looked upon as a judicial inquiry in the sense of its being an exercise of judicial function properly so called "

(2) A Commission under this Act merely ascertains facts. It does not decide any dispute. There are no parties be fore the Commission. There is no 'lis'. As Lord Shawcross has said in the case of the analogous Tribunal in England, "the procedure of the Tribunal is inquisitional rather than accusatorial".

In fact, it has already been held by the Nagpur High Court in the case of Rajwade v. Hassan, AIR 1954 Nag 71 that a Commission appointed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, is not a court within the meaning of section 3 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1952.1

(3) Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees to every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression, but under clause (2) thereof it is open to the Legislature to make a law imposing reasonable restrictions on such a right in relation, among other matters, to contempt of court. If, however, the Commission is not a court, the relevant entry, namely, entry 14 of the Concurrent List, will not be available to Parliament to make any such law. The expression "court" in relation to contempt of court, as it occurs both in Article 19(2) and in entry 14 of the Concurrent List, must be given its well-accepted meaning and it would not, therefore, be open to Parliament to convert what is a mere fact-finding body into a Court for the purpose of punishing contempt of it.

(4) We are aware that section 5(4) commences with the words "The Commission shall be deemed to be a Civil Court". These words are intended to make it clear that section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is attracted.

(5) While we cannot constitute the Commission into a Court for the purposes of contempt, we feel at the same time, that some provision should be made to protect members of the Commission from irresponsible and scurrilous attacks. Section 5(4) of the Act already provides for the punishment of certain offences under the Indian Penal Code committed in the view or presence of the Commission. We think that a provision should be made2 for punishing persons who by spoken words or words intended to be read, make or publish any statement or do any other act calculated to bring the Commission or any member thereof into disrepute. And such a provision could be related to entries 1 and 2 of the Concurrent List.

It will not be possible to go beyond this, and to make a provision in wide terms on the lines of section 1(2) of the English Act, sections 18 and 24 of the Royal Commission on Espionage Act, 1954 (Australia), sections 6-10 of the Royal Commission Act, 1902-1933 (Australia), sections 12(2) to 12(4) of the (Ceylon) Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1948, or section 5(1) of the Public Inquiries Act, Alberta (Canada), (R.S. Alberta 1955 Ch. 258). In our opinion, such a provision which punishes contempt of the Commission will be hit by clause (2) of Article 19 of the Constitution.

(6) We are aware that the offence of defamation is already punishable under sections 499 to 502 of the Indian Penal Code. But, in spite of such provisions, virulent attacks have been made on Commissions and their members-a fact to which our attention has been drawn by several distinguished persons who had served on various Commissions of Inquiry appointed under the Act. "We think that if the Act itself creates a specific offence of the kind suggested, the attention of the public will be focused on the penal consequences of defamatory attacks on a Commission or its members. We consider it unnecessary to encumber the proposed provision with the various Exceptions and Explanations contained in section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, because we think that the clause, without the Exceptions and Explanations, will be interpreted by the courts in a reasonable manner.

(7) At one stage, we were inclined to include, in the new provision, acts likely to lower the authority of a Commission or its members or to interfere with any of its lawful processes. On further consideration, however, we felt that the provisions in the Indian Penal Code, Chapter X, sections 172 to 190, dealing with contempts of the lawful authority of public servants, (which would be attracted in the case of members of Commissions also, who under the Act, are public servants,) would meet the requirements of the case. We, therefore, decided to leave out those matters.

1. See also Braj Nandan Sinha v. jyati Narain, (1959) 2 SCR 955, where it was held that a somewhat similar body appointed under the Public Servants (Inquiries) Act, 1950, is not a court within the meaning of the Contempt of Court's Act, 1952.

2. See App I, section 5(5) as proposed.

Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 Back

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