Monday, January 22, 2007

Questioning the "Contempt of Court" laws

This is a good thing. A very good thing, indeed.

Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju asks some right questions:

THE BASIC principle in a democracy is that the people are supreme. It follows that all authorities — whether judges, legislators, Ministers, bureaucrats — are servants of the people. Once this concept of popular sovereignty is kept firmly in mind, it becomes obvious that the people of India are the masters and all authorities (including the courts) are their servants. Surely, the master has the right to criticise the servant if the servant does not act or behave properly. It would logically follow that in a democracy the people have the right to criticise judges. Why then should there be a Contempt of Courts Act, which to some extent prevents people from criticising judges or doing other things that are regarded as contempt of court?

Justice Katju has been pushing this "judges are people's servants" line for qutie sometime now. Here's an example from his days as a the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court:

Since the people are our masters and we their servants, surely the masters have a right to criticise us and take us to task if we do not function properly. So, we should not take offence when the people criticise us. Our authority rests on public confidence, and not on the power of contempt, as the celebrated American Judge, Justice Frankfurter, pointed out. People in India have great respect for the judiciary, but this creates an obligation on us to come up to the expectations of the people.