Contempt of court law scrapped
The High Court yesterday declared “void and unconstitutional” the contempt of court law that gives some protection to journalists and government officials, saying the law curtails court's constitutional powers to deal with contempt cases.
Provisions of the Contempt of Court Act-2013 are discriminatory since those give protection to a section of people, the HC said in a judgment.
Every citizen is equal in the eye of law as per the constitution, it observed.
The HC gave the verdict upon a writ petition filed by two Supreme Court lawyers challenging the legality of eight provisions of the contempt of court law, which exempted journalists and government officials from contempt charges.
The Jatiya Sangsad enacted the law on February 19 this year.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told The Daily Star that the government would soon file an appeal with the Supreme Court, seeking a stay on the HC judgment.
He, however, declined to elaborate on the matter.
The judgment said provisions of the contempt of court law, which are contradictory to articles 27, 108 and 112 of the constitution, have curtailed the powers of the highest court of the country.
The HC said the constitution provides that the SC and the HC possess inherent power to summon anybody before them for committing contempt of court, and the administration will act in aid of the courts.
Article 27 of the constitution says, “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law”.
Citing a Supreme Court verdict of the 90s, the HC bench that gave the judgment yesterday said the freedom of press is not unlimited as per the law. A specific periphery should remain in place for fair and truthful publications.
It added the press is a big power, and the court takes help from the press almost every day. The court does not want to limit the freedom of press, but this freedom should not be unfettered.
The bench said those who have no idea about law and court proceedings should not be allowed to write whatever they wish on the proceedings.
The court cannot accept any comment on the ongoing trial proceedings, as criticism on any issue should be made within a periphery. The court is aware of the consequence of criticisms if those are made without adequate knowledge on the topics, said the verdict.
About an earlier HC verdict that convicted seven journalists in a contempt of court case filed for publishing reports on educational certificates of former HC judge Faisal Mahmud Faizee, the HC bench said that was an isolated event. Formulating the law providing full protection to journalists following that was not right.
It noted that government officials have been given powers to disobey the court's orders as per section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act-2013, which cannot be considered democratic.
The verdict said according to the provisions of the act, the court cannot summon any government officials before it in a contempt of court case, and the contempt case against any government official will become ineffective immediately after his/her retirement.
The HC bench comprising Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque and Justice ABM Altaf Hossain gave the judgment after hearing the writ petition -- public interest litigation -- filed by SC lawyers Asaduzzaman Siddiqui and Ayesha Khatoon.
The bench also rejected two separate petitions filed by Mizanur Rahman Khan, a senior journalist of the Prothom Alo, and the Gazetted Officers Association for becoming party to the case so that they could place arguments to defend the law.
The writ petitioners challenged the legality of some sections of the contempt law.
They claimed that those sections have made the articles 27, 108 and 112 of the constitution ineffective.
Section 4 of the law states that innocent publications or distribution are not contempt of court.
According to section 5, publication of impartial and authentic report is not contempt of court while section 6 stated that bringing allegations against the presiding judge of a subordinate court is not contempt of court.
As per section 7, publication of information on ongoing proceedings (of cases) in a chamber or close-door-room except a few events does not constitute contempt of court.
According to section 9, someone accused of contempt of court will not be punished for violating this law by publishing anything or doing any act that is not considered punishable offence under the law.
Section 10 stated that contempt allegations cannot be brought against government officials for failure to implement court orders.
Section 11 said the court can exempt an accused in a contempt of court case if he/she can provide satisfactory information in reply to a show cause notice.
Section 13 (2) said the court can pardon any accused in a contempt case if he/she offers unconditional apology before court.
Petitioner's counsel Manzill Murshid told this correspondent that the High Court will now deal with contempt cases against anybody under article 108 of the constitution.
In June 2011, the government placed a bill in the House to enact a new law (declared void yesterday) on contempt of court to replace the one enacted in 1926 during the British colonial rule.
Explaining the rationale for the move, the government had said the 1926 law on contempt of court is “unclear and also incomplete to a large extent”.
Due to its inadequacies, there was confusion in public mind about punishment for contempt of court, the government reasoned.