New Delhi: Truth is a defence in contempt proceeding and it is now statutorily settled, the Supreme Court today said.
“The Court may now permit truth as a defence if two things are satisfied, viz., it is in public interest and the request for invoking said defence is bona fide,” a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha said. The bench said such a conclusion is arrived in the wake of amendment brought in 2006 in the 1971 law dealing with the contemp proceedings.
“The legal position with regard to truth as a defence in contempt proceedings is now statutorily settled by Section 13 of the 1971 Act (as substituted by Act 6 of 2006),” the bench, also comprising justices Anil R Dave, S J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra, and Shiva Kirti Singh, said.
It said that some of the common law countries provide that truth could be a defence if the comment was also for the public benefit.
It also mentioned that long back the Privy Council held that reasoned or legitimate criticism of judges or courts is not contempt of court.
The Supreme Court made the observation while dropping 24-year old contempt proceedings against veteran journalist Arun Shourie for writing in 1990 against its then sitting judge who was heading a Commission appointed to probe into acts of omissions and commissions against former Karnataka Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde.
When the matter had come before the apex court, the then Attorney General Soli Sorabjee in his opinion dated August 27, 1990, noted that the editorial had, prima facie, overstepped the limits of permissible criticism and the law of contempt, as was existing in the country, did not provide for truth as defence and, therefore, he opined that an explanation was called for and a notice could be issued for that purpose.
Referring to its earlier verdict given by two judge bench, the five-judge bench said the amended section enables the Court to permit justification by truth as a valid defence in any contempt proceedings if it is satisfied that such defence is in public interest and the request for invoking the defence is bona fide.
“We approve the view of the two Judge Bench in R K Jain matter,” the bench noted and added that “Nothing further needs to be considered with regard to the question since the amendment in contempt law has effectively rendered this question redundant”.