SC game for healthy criticism of judges

Kathmandu, November 8:

Healthy criticism of judges is allowed, the Supreme Court today said in the full text of a judgement pronounced eleven months ago.

“The power of contempt of court cannot be exercised against anyone if the person is found to have spoken or publicised truth or commented in a fair manner. It will be a case of misuse of this power if it is exercised against anyone for speaking the truth,” the judgment states.

A division bench of justices Bala Ram KC and Ram Kumar Prasad Shah interpreted the power of contempt of court, quashing a contempt of court case, which was filed against the publisher of Himal Media, Kanak Mani Dixit, editor Rajendra Dahal and cartoonist Rabin Sayami four years ago.

Opposing the publication of a cartoon in the Himal fortnightly, which had portrayed the Chief Justice as a monkey, a Kathmandu resident, Santosh Bhattarai, had moved the court.

The bench, however, stated that the court can initiate strong action against the person if the latter is found to have tried to scandalise the court with an ulterior motive.

The Interim Constitution has taken the court as a trustee of the people, the bench observed, adding, “Scandalising of the judiciary can be prevented through the contempt of court power.”

“Administrative action of the judges can be questioned, but action cannot be initiated against any judges on that ground alone,” the judgment said. The bench also said that discussions on personal matters of any judges or their administrative decisions cannot be taken as the contempt of court.

In addition, the bench observed that criticism of the Constitutional Council cannot be taken as a contempt of court charge just because the Chief Justice (CJ) is a member of the council. “If anyone scandalises action of the CJ or any judges while they are performing their judicial duties and thus tries to question the credibility of the judiciary, such an action can be taken as a contemptuous action,” the bench observed.