Critiquing any judge is no contempt of court: Experts

  • press-judiciary tussle
- Pranab Kharel, Kathmandu

Jul 4, 2014-

As cases of court contempt against the media come into the national limelight, advocacy groups and observers assert that recent moves by the judiciary and the government could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the media’s right to critique the judiciary.

They argue that the issues of contempt of court could be raised if there is a clear obstruction to justice and that critiquing the conduct of individual judges should not be construed as an integral debate in a democracy.

“The recent action of the apex court hints at an attempt to muzzle the media,” says Advocate Semanta Dahal, without commenting on specific actions of the court to underscore his point.

Critics point out the absence of specific laws regarding contempt of court as a major hindrance. “We don’t have specific laws and it’s up to an individual judge to decide what constitutes contempt,” says senior journalist Dhruba Hari Adhikari. He demands that all forms of debate be open at this time of constitution-making.

“It would be better for the court to restrain itself. Otherwise it may appear as though the court is trying to flare up the matter,” added Adhikari.

Asked whether the judiciary was trying to overreach its jurisdiction vis-à-vis the media, both Adhikari and Dahal remained non-committal. In fact, Dahal maintained that it would not be appropriate to comment on the

matter as the final verdict on the matter sub judice in court is yet to come.

The contempt of court versus freedom of expression debate comes at a time when the government has registered a controversial bill on contempt in Parliament. Clause 4 of the bill states, without defining several terms, that “publishing falsified documents regarding sub judice cases or materials that may influence a verdict or erode people’s trust in the judiciary or create confusion about the activities of the court shall be regarded as contempt of court”.

Lawmakers across the political spectrum have questioned the bill and threatened to shoot it down for attempting to gag the media and commentators.

Along with lawmakers, media bodies such as the International Federation of Journalists and Federation of Nepali Journalists have expressed serious concerns over the bill, saying that some of its provisions are aimed at limiting press freedom and freedom of expression.

FNJ General Secretary Ujir Magar maintains that the journalists’ umbrella organisation is against such limits on freedom of expression.

“How can you have a bill that bars even questioning the conduct of a judge?” asked Magar.

Published: 05-07-2014 08:52

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