• This forum contains old posts that have been closed. New threads and replies may not be made here. Please navigate to the relevant forum to create a new thread or post a reply.
  • Welcome to Tamil Brahmins forums.

    You are currently viewing our boards as a guest which gives you limited access to view most discussions and access our other features. By joining our Free Brahmin Community you will have access to post topics, communicate privately with other members (PM), respond to polls, upload content and access many other special features. Registration is fast, simple and absolutely free so please, join our community today!

    If you have any problems with the registration process or your account login, please contact contact us.

The basics for free speech

Not open for further replies.


Active member
[h=2]Courts have routinely invoked contempt to punish expressions of dissent, when such expressions often posed no threat to the administration of justice.[/h]
Through a most pernicious act of judicial fiat, in a judgment delivered on December 23, 2015, Justice A.B. Chaudhari, sitting on the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court, issued notice to the Booker Prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy for committing what he believed constituted a clear case of criminal contempt of court. The decision was rendered on an application for bail by the Delhi University professor, G.N. Saibaba. Not only did the court reject Dr. Saibaba’s plea, in spite of his substantial disabilities, it also hauled Ms. Roy up for writing in support of the professor, and in criticism of the Indian state, including the country’s judiciary. In initiating contempt proceedings, Justice Chaudhari’s judgment has exemplified the state of the right to free speech in India — a liberty fractured by colonial vestiges such as the law on contempt, which we have embarrassingly embraced as a supposed necessity to uphold the majesty of our courts.
The conventional defences adopted in favour of the judiciary retaining powers to punish acts of contempt invariably point to the Constitution. Article 19(1)(a) no doubt grants to the country’s citizens a right to freedom of speech and expression. But the ensuing clause, Article 19(2), limits this freedom, and accords the state the express authority to make laws that establish reasonable restrictions on speech, on various grounds, including contempt of court. When in 1971, Parliament enacted the Contempt of Courts Act, with a purported view of defining and limiting the powers of courts in punishing acts of contempt, it was the inherent constraint in Article 19 that it took refuge under. But this statute is neither reasonable nor in keeping with the fundamental mandates of a legitimate government.

Constitutional lawyers have proposed many different justifications for the right to free speech. As legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin argued, these justifications usually fall into one or the other of two larger categories. The first involves an instrumental understanding of free speech: that to allow people to speak freely and openly promotes good rather than bad policies. The second justification is premised on a larger platform of a commitment to individual autonomy, of treating people with equal concern, and of therefore respecting their right to speak freely. Punishing speech for supposedly scandalising or lowering the authority of the court falls afoul of whichever rationale we might wish to adopt in our theorising of the abstract right to free expression in India.
Interestingly, in England, whose laws of contempt we’ve so indiscriminately adopted, there hasn’t been a single conviction for scandalising the court in more than eight decades. What’s more, in 2013, after a recommendation by its Law Commission, the country altogether abolished as a form of contempt the offence of scandalising the judiciary. In so doing, it gave credence to Lord Denning’s characteristically precise opinion in a case where contempt charges had been pressed against Queen’s Counsel Quintin Hogg for what was an excoriating attack on the courts in Punch magazine. “Let me say at once that we will never use this jurisdiction as a means to uphold our own dignity,” Denning wrote. “That must rest on surer foundations… We do not fear criticism, nor do we resent it. For there is something far more important at stake. It is no less than freedom of speech itself.”

Not open for further replies.

Latest ads