The Daily Star has talked to eminent jurists and lawmakers about yesterday’s High Court verdict that declared the Contempt of Court Act, 2013, illegal and unconstitutional. Following are their reactions to the verdict.
DR KAMAL HOSSAIN
After a long time since 1926, the country had the Contempt of Court Act, which was passed in parliament, said the eminent jurist Dr Kamal Hossain.
An act of parliament cannot be annulled so easily, he added.
He said he had appealed to the court to make Bangla daily Prothom Alo and Bangladesh Administrative Association parties to the case, but the court rejected his appeal.
The sections of the act that were challenged were turned into acts in India and UK in 1971 and 1981 respectively, he mentioned. That did not threaten the dignity of the higher courts in those countries.
“There were some loopholes in the previous contempt act of 1926 and we also waited for long to see an act that closes them,” he said.
Citing some examples of contempt cases, Dr Kamal said even objective news in the media was considered contempt of court under the previous act.
“People who believe in freedom of the press wanted a change to this. There should be a guideline in this regard.”
He believes an appeal against the verdict should be filed with the Appellate Division, and the final judgement must come from the Apex Court.
Seasoned lawmaker Suranjit Sengupta said parliament had made the law in line with the constitution.
“By providing further protection for freedom of speech and freedom of press, we intended to strengthen democracy. We did it with a liberal attitude,” he said.
Referring to Article 39 of the constitution, he said freedom of thought is guaranteed and this is unfettered. Freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press are also guaranteed subject to some reasonable restrictions.
“I hope the government will take it up with the Appellate Division in the form of an appeal. I also hope the Appellate Division will scrutinise the entire judgement in view of liberal democracy,” said Suranjit, a minister without portfolio.
Former law minister Moudud Ahmed said he supported the provisions made in the contempt of court law regarding freedom of the press, as those had been made for the sake of strengthening democracy and the welfare of the country.
The court should not have declared these provisions illegal and unconstitutional, said Moudud, who is currently an MP.
The BNP standing committee member, however, does not support the provisions regarding government officials.
“The law exempted them from appearing before the court in contempt of court charges. The government exaggerated these provisions,” he said.
Moudud, however, said the court should have dealt with the provisions regarding freedom of the press and the government officials separately, instead of making a wholesale decision.
The noted jurist observed that the law had consolidated freedom of speech and the press about judicial functions. But the annulment of the law means there will be a stifling effect on the freedom now.
“Healthy criticism is always helpful for organisations and this strengthens democracy. On the other hand, throttling criticism always increases inefficiency and unaccountability,” he said.
Another consequence of the judgement is that there does not seem to be any law of contempt of court now, he said.
“Therefore, we may have landed in a situation where the contempt of court act has suddenly become an act, because of which no one can be held accountable, as there is no law of contempt of court in the law book.”