Disbelief was my first reaction; that our High Court has initiated contempt proceedings against ‘Tamil Hindu’ and its columnist Samas for allegedly scandalizing the Court through his column. I found the extract of that ‘contemptuous column’, which to my relief presents few well known statistics on the socio economic status of the prisoners all over India. The author, while concluding tried to take a pot shot upon the justice delivery system; not in his own words but by hiding behind what Periyar EVR said several years ago; so much for the courage of our columnists!
A rather dull and insipid attempt, I must say from what I had read in that extract but still our High Court found it to be offensive enough, warranting criminal contempt proceedings.
The High Court in my opinion, by initiating this contempt proceeding is setting a wrong precedent and this may ultimately end up in wasting the precious time of the Court; an introspection would have soothed the conscience, if it is really scandalized. This proceeding will compel the High Court into examining and to answer whether its anger violates the right of the common public to know and the duty of the press to inform and educate.
From what I have observed in all these years at the High Court, the usually pliant TN press is maintaining a good equation with the High Court even at the cost of its own credibility. Carefully avoiding what is awkward and inconvenient, the press normally concentrates only on reporting the judgments with prominence; justified as such reporting of judgments shall help in educating common man about their rights and obligations and in keeping the faith in the Judiciary. The question Samas asked in his column and his statistics is insignificant in comparison to what is being written and discussed about the Judiciary in the Social media or in the corridors of the Courts.
The High Court shall remind itself what the Supreme Court famously said in Arundhati Roy’s case that the ‘Court's shoulders are broad enough to shrug off the comments’ I would like to differ, add or supplement; the comments are to be carried like a cross and no to be shrugged off and be forgotten; Jesus did not shrug off the sins of humanity but stepped forward to accept responsibility by bearing the cross himself.
These are testing times for the Judiciary not only in Tamilnadu but all over India. We cannot hide the nagging feeling with which we are dogged that the Judiciary is suffering ‘Trust Deficit’ among the common public; irrespective of the legal niceties involved in the Jeyalalitha assets case and the Salman Khan bail controversy what we hear from the ordinary citizens whom we encounter in the street is not encouraging but embarrassing.
Civil contempt may be armor, protecting the majesty of the court but Criminal contempt is a sword; the problem is that it takes the shape of a double edged sword and only when it is comfortable to wield, the court has to take it.
This is definitely not the best time for the courts to test such expertise…