The Supreme Court is concerned over growing popular perception that judges are over-sensitive in contempt matters.
About two months before the Mid Day journalists were sentenced to four months in jail for contempt, the court had cautioned that misuse of contempt jurisdiction could erode public confidence in the judiciary. “It should be remembered that exercise of such power results in eroding the confidence of the public rather than creating trust and faith in the judiciary,” a bench headed by Justice R.V. Raveendran had said.
Disapproving the tendency among judges to treat even technical violations or unintended acts as contempt, it had said: “It is possible it is done to uphold the majesty of courts, and to command respect. But judges, like everyone else, have to earn respect. They cannot demand respect by demonstration of ‘power’ (of contempt).” The bench had quoted US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who had said two centuries ago that “the power of judiciary lies, not in deciding cases, nor in imposing sentences, nor in punishing for contempt, but in the trust, confidence and faith of the common man”.
Laying down norms to deal with contempt cases, the court had said: “Courts should not readily infer an intention to scandalise courts or lower the authority of courts unless such intention is clearly established. Nor should they exercise power to punish for contempt where mere question of propriety is involved.” It had said jurisdiction in contempt should not be invoked unless there is real prejudice, which can be regarded as a substantial interference with the due course of justice.