ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Debating Contempt of Court

By issuing a contempt notice to Justice Markandey Katju for his over-the-top criticism of its judgment, in the manner that it did, the Supreme Court has only diminished its institutional dignity. While Katju’s behaviour post retirement is not in keeping with the nature of the office he held, the contempt jurisdiction was not meant to be used like this.

November 2016 saw the unprecedented sight of a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India addressing the Court. Justice Markandey Katju was not appearing on behalf of anyone, but was making his submissions on the request of the Supreme Court itself, specifically Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Prafulla C Pant and Uday U Lalit, who were hearing review petitions against their judgment in the “Soumya murder case” (Govindaswamy v State of Kerala 2016).

What happened afterwards shocked the observers in the Court. After having rejected Katju’s arguments for imposing the death penalty on the convicts, the Court then proceeded to issue a contempt notice to him (Vishwanath 2016). While this took most of those present (including Katju) by surprise, an inkling of this could have been obtained by reading the cause-list, which made a mention of Katju’s blog posts (now deleted) that had criticised the Supreme Court’s judgment in this case. Once the Court dictated its order issuing notice,1 there was an exchange of strong words between Katju and the judges, before he was ushered out of the Court.

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