Reports on the Question Is Harsh Criticism of a Commission Headed by an Indian Supreme Court Justice a Reasonable Basis for Contempt Lawsuit against the Critic?
In a contempt lawsuit by Dr. Subramanian Swamy against then journalist Arun Shourie in the Indian Supreme Court, Swamy contended that Shourie had shown contempt to the Indian Supreme Court because he had critiqued harshly the findings of a commission headed by a sitting Supreme Court Justice.
In 1990, Indian Supreme Court Justice Kuldip Singh was appointed to head a Commission to probe into acts of omissions and commissions against former Karnataka Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde.Shourie wrote a stinging editorial criticizing the Commission and Justice Kuldip Singh.
Arguing that the said editorial by Shourie constituted contempt of the Indian Supreme Court, Swamy filed a lawsuit.
The Supreme Court analyzed the facts of the case and finally, after twenty-four years, has produced an important ruling which is likely to be likely precedential.
The Supreme Court has held that a Commission headed by a sitting Supreme Court Judge is not an extension of the Supreme Court, even though it may be headed by the Supreme Court justice. Accordingly, even derogation of a Commission cannot be considered contempt of the Supreme Court.
Specifically, the Court affirmed that: “We do not have any doubt that functions of the Commission appointed under the 1952 Act are not like a body discharging judicial functions or judicial power. The Commission appointed under the 1952 Act in our view is not a Court and making the inquiry or determination of facts by the Commission is not of judicial character.”
The Court further affirmed that: “The mere fact that the procedure adopted by the Commission is of a legal character and it has the power to administer oath will not clothe it with the status of Court. That being so, in our view, the Commission appointed under the 1952 Act is not a Court for the purposes of Contempt of Courts Act even though it is headed by a sitting Supreme Court Judge.”
In bringing this lawsuit to the Supreme Court and obtaining clear precedential ruling on the status of commissions headed by a sitting court judge, Dr. Swamy furthered the development of a robust legal framework in India.