Free Speech & Contempt of Court: Where to Draw the Line?​​

Surabhi Sudhanshu Godbole​
Legal Practitioner in India.

Volume IV, Issue I, 2021

The spirit of Indian Democracy is founded on the basic fundamental rights enshrined in its Constitution and the fundamental right which runs the wheels of democracy, it the Right to Free Speech.

This very right, like every fundamental right comes with a reasonable restriction and responsibility. However, the right to free speech is purportedly terrorized by the action of criminal contempt. The law of Contempt of Court is an archaic law, which is vague and lacks due procedure. More than a reasonable restriction, it is being used as weapon to threaten those who voice and revolt against the judiciary in particular or any organ of the government in general.

The line between free speech and contempt of court is very thin, and both i.e the public at large and the judiciary must not jump this line and must within the ambit of this line so as to not stifle and stumble upon one another.

The changing times, demand, that people must voice their opinions and the Judiciary must refrain from reacting to such revolts, since the role of judiciary is much more important and higher than any revolt. It must not use the weapon of contempt to strangulate the voices of the public at large.

In my opinion, fair criticism is a must and to run the democracy smoothly, people need to voice their opinions and expressions freely, without any fear anyhow whatsoever. Moreover, criminal contempt is too dangerous for the democracy, because if it is motivated and encouraged, in no time it will kill the very spirit of democracy and turn this country into an autocratic state.

In conclusion, it is pertinent to state that, in an era, in which social medias are full of critics, commenters and observers who deem it necessary to air their views in many unrestrained and uninhibited ways, the higher judiciary should not really be spending its time and energy invoking its powers to punish for contempt of itself.