Scandalisation of Court

‘Scandalisation of Court’ is not ‘precisely explained’ in Supreme Court cases [See, In Re: Hon’ble Shri Justice C.S. Karnan, Suo-Motu Contempt Petition (Civil) No. 1 of 2017]. It is a species of contempt and may take several forms. A common form is the vilification of the Judge [See, Shri Baradakanta Mishra v. The Registrar of Orissa High Court, (1974) 1 SCC 374]. In v. Gray, [1900] 2 QR 36 a journalist was found to be in contempt for describing Mr. Justice Darling as an ‘impudent little man in horsehair, a microcosm of conceit and empty-headedness’. Even though he apologized, Howard Alexander Gray, the editor of The Birmingham Daily Argus, was convicted and fined the substantial sum of 125 pounds.

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“Little Darling”
Darling as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, July 1897

The distinction between scrutiny on the one hand and scurrility on the other is one that has become relaxed over time. In Harris v. Harris, [2001] 2 FLR 895 Munby J. expressed:

That which is lawful if expressed in the temperate or scholarly language of a legal periodical or the broadsheet press does not become unlawful simply because expressed in the more robust, colourful or intemperate language of the tabloid press or even in language which is crude, insulting and vulgar.”

This more relaxed attitude is reflected in the fact that The Daily Mirror was not prosecuted when it called of the Majority Judges of the House of Lords, who decided The Spycatcher Case (Attorney General vs. Guardian Newspaper, 1987 3 All ER 316), “YOU FOOLS”. Fali Nariman, who was present in England at that time, asked Lord Templeman, who was one of the majority, why the Judges did not take contempt action. Lord Templeman smiled, and said that Judges in England took no notice of personal insults. Although he did not regard himself as a fool, others were entitled to their opinion.

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Great Britain has abolished the offence of criminal contempt on the ground of Scandalising the Court. However, it continues to be imposed in other parts of the Commonwealth. The recent judgment against Hon’ble Shri Justice C.S. Karnan (Retd.) is further evidence.

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