The power to punish for contempt is necessary to secure public respect and confidence in the judicial process but it should be used with greater responsibility, the Supreme Court has said.
While quashing a high court order, a bench of justices H L Dattu and C K Prasad, observed that fair comments on legal issues do not amount to contempt.
"In our opinion, it is criminal contempt to voice opinion on a case pending in court as that would seem to influence the outcome of the matter and to prejudice the parties therein.
"However, we hasten to add that fair reporting of court proceedings and fair comments on the legal issues do not amount to contempt."
The bench held that the power to initiate contempt proceedings has been granted to the courts to carry out their obligations effectively.
"It is only through the courts that rule of law unfolds its contours and establishes its concept. For the judiciary to carry out its obligations effectively and true to the spirit with which it is sacredly entrusted the task, constitutional courts have been given the power to punish for contempt," the bench said.
"This power though inherent to the High Court is given a constitutional status by Article 215 of the Constitution. It is to secure public respect and confidence in the judicial process," it further said.
The apex court, however, cautioned that the power should be used with greater responsibility and quashed the Karnataka high court order for initiating contempt proceeding against industrialist H G Rangan Goud and the Under Secretary in Karnataka government.
The high court had initiated the contempt proceedings against them after they tried to implement an order of the single bench while an appeal on it was pending before a division bench.