Mid Day scribes' conviction triggers campaign against contempt law

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New Delhi, Sept 28 (UNI) With the media movement against the court sentence to Mid Day journalists gathering momentum, the existing law of Contempt of Court is under sharp attack, especially for its provision against attempt to scandalise judges and tarnish the image of judiciary.

This provision is a legacy of the British system and should go is a widely prevailing feeling.

Moreover, the whole issue of corruption in judiciary and the need for reform in the system is again in the limelight with journalists up in arms against the punishment to Mid Day scribes.

The matter was hotly debated at the India Women's Press Corps and the Press Club of India.

The Delhi Union of Journalists and the Press Club also organised protest rallies at which journalists vowed to continue their struggle.

The message of the rallies was clear: Law of Contmpt cannot be used to gag the media and the voice of truth.

The Delhi High Court had earlier this month awarded four months imprisonment to Mid Day reporters, editor and publisher for carrying out stories alleging former CJI Y K Sabharwal's orders on sealing were biased and were meant to influence the business of his sons, who had contacts with mall owners.

The contempt order has raised a serious issue of whether the judges, however corrupt they might be, should be allowed to go scot free and any attempt by the civil society to bring it to light through the Press should be prevented, well known Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said at a discussion at the IWPC yesterday.

The High Court's argument that by making allegations against former CJI, the Mid Day journalists had also tarnished the image of other judged was surprising and did not stand reason, said Mr Bhushan, who is the founder activist of the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform.

The judicious step for the court would have been to institute an inquiry into the allegation against the former CJI before proceeding against the journalists.

It would be undemocratic if corruption in one wing of the system was allowed to go unquestioned, he added.

Mr Bhushan and secretary of the Bar Association Som Dutt sought to point out that the process of impeachment was so difficult that it never achieved any result.

First to initiate the impeachement process, one has to get the sign of 100 MPs, and no MP was willing to sign such a petition unless such allgations were adequately in the public domain, and if the media was not allowed to bring such issues up to the public then the question was who can do it, they said.

Criminal investigation too was almost an impossibility as for that permission of the CJI was required, which is never given, said the lawyers.

Mr Dutt said the country's judicial system was derived from Britain where the judiciary derived its authority from the King. He felt it was high time that the system was changed in keeping with the democractic and republican nature of the Indian system.

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