The citizens of this democratic nation have a guaranteed right to freedom of speech and expression,this is indeed an axiom of the Indian constitutional jurisprudence.
It is one of the key fundamental rights under part 3 of the constitution . Article 19 can basically be divided into two parts ,wherein Article 19(1) is concerned with the rights of the citizens and Article 19(2) to19(6) is pertaining to the rights of the state with respect to imposing certain reasonable restrictions on the freedoms of the citizens.
On the other hand According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt. Civil contempt means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court. On the other hand, criminal contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which
(i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
(iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
The more pressing question is where to draw the line? Where does the Right To Freedom of Speech and Expression end and after what point can a person’s criticism amount to Contempt of Court.
Lets talk about the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 here shall we, as per Section 5 of the Act, fair criticism is not to be termed as contempt of court. However its the Court who decides what’s fair criticism and what’s not which puts the entire aspect of defining fair criticism under the Court’s discretion.
However Article 19(2) of the Constitution authorises the government to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression “in the interests of… public order.” It states that Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
The reasonable restrictions as mentioned above clearly establish that exercising the right to freedom of speech and expression shouldn’t be at the expense of such expression or statement being inconsistent with the reasonable restrictions under the ambit of the right, contempt of court clearly being one of those restrictions.
And hence Is it not a curtailment of fundamental rights to initiate contempt proceedings against artists and comedians for sharing their views if the court deems that such criticism doesn’t fall under the purview of “fair criticism “.