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N Ram, Arun Shourie, Prashant Bhushan challenge validity of ‘criminal contempt’

Senior journalist N Ram, former union minister Arun Shourie and activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan have moved the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of ‘criminal contempt’.

They have challenged Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, that defines ‘criminal contempt’ as publication of anything – whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, 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.

Section 2(c)(I) was a manifestly arbitrary and vague provision of law which violated right to equality and right to free speech guaranteed under the Constitution, they contended in the petition filed on Friday.

“The broad and ambiguous wording of the sub-section violates Article 14 by leaving the offence open to differing and inconsistent applications. This uncertainty in the manner in which the law applies renders it manifestly arbitrary and violates the right to equal treatment,” they submitted.

Terming it as unconstitutional, the trio argued, “It is incompatible with preamble values and basic features of the Constitution, it violates Article 19(1)(a), is unconstitutionally and incurably vague, and is manifestly arbitrary.”

The petition has been filed days before the Supreme Court is scheduled to take up two contempt petitions against Bhushan for allegedly bringing the institution of judiciary under disrepute.

The Supreme Court had on July 22 issued notices to Bhushan and Twitter Inc for his tweets allegedly scandalising the judiciary. Two days later, a Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra also decided to resume hearing in another contempt of court case against him pending since 2009. The two cases are listed for hearing on August 4 and 5.

Earlier, a group of 131 former judges, ex-bureaucrats and activists came out in his support, terming it as an attempt at stifling criticism.

The group — which included former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur, former Delhi High Court Chief Justice AP Shah and several retired bureaucrats and academics — appealed to the top court to drop the criminal contempt proceedings against Bhushan.