Consent for Contempt

#GS2 #JUDICIARY

Attorney General for India granted consent to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against comic illustrator Rachita Taneja for allegedly scandalising the judiciary through the tweets and illustrations.

  • The Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, lays down the law on contempt of court. Section15 of the legislation describes the procedure on how a case for contempt of court can be initiated.
  • In the case of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General or the Solicitor General, and in the case of High Courts, the Advocate General, may bring in a motion before the court for initiating a case of criminal contempt.
  • However, if the motion is brought by any other person, the consent in writing of the Attorney General or the Advocate General is required.
  • The motion or reference made for initiating the case will have to specify the contempt of which the person charged is alleged to be guilty.
  • The procedure in cases of criminal contempt of court, which means the publication of material that scandalises or lowers the dignity of the court or prejudices or interferes with the proceedings of the court, the consent of the Attorney General is required under the law.
  • The objective behind requiring the consent of the Attorney General before taking cognizance of a complaint is to save the time of the court. 
  • Judicial time is squandered if frivolous petitions are made and the court is the first forum for bringing them in. 
  • The AG’s consent is meant to be a safeguard against frivolous petitions, as it is deemed that the AG, as an officer of the court, will independently ascertain whether the complaint is indeed valid.
  • If the AG denies consent, the matter all but ends.
  • The complainant can, however, separately bring the issue to the notice of the court and urge the court to take suo motu (on its own motion) cognizance. 
  • If the court does take suo motu cognizance, as it did in the case of Prashant Bhushan, the consent of the senior-most law officer is not required.
  • “The Supreme Court shall be a court of record and shall have all the powers of such a court including the power to punish for contempt of itself,” Article 129 states.
  • Once the consent of the Attorney General is given in writing, a notice under The Contempt of Courts Act is served personally on the person against whom the proceedings are sought to be initiated by the court. 
  • If the court decides not to serve the notice personally, the law requires the court to record the reasons for it.
  • If the court is satisfied that the alleged contemnor is likely to abscond or evade judicial proceedings, it can order attachment of property of a value that it deems reasonable.
  • Once the notice is served, the alleged contemnor may file an affidavit in support of his defence, explaining the nature and circumstances of her remarks. 
  • The case is required under the Act to be heard by a Bench of at least two judges. The court then takes into account any evidence available to check the affidavit, and pass appropriate orders.
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