[dropcap]A[/dropcap] criminal contempt petition has been filed against a group of advocates who had urged Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya Tahilramani on August 20 for not posting sensitive litigations related to women and religious issues to Justice S Vaidyanathan after he made controversial remark against Christian institutions and women “misusing” laws.
Maintaining that his conduct is “unbecoming of a judge who has sworn to uphold the Constitution and laws”, the group of 64 senior lawyers in their representation to the Chief Justice of Madras High Court on August 20 had also demanded that the objectionable remarks be expunged from the judgement. It stressed that his remarks amounted to serious transgressions of judicial discipline and impropriety and sought a direction that matters related to gender and religious issues should not be posted before the judge in question.
The criminal contempt has been filed by advocate R Soundarajan against the group of lawyers, claiming that the representation was not fair criticism but was “likely to interfere with due administration of justice or undermine the confidence which the public reposes in the courts of law as courts of justice.”
On September 4, the office of the Advocate General issued the notice to the petitioner Soundarajan to meet the Advocate General on September 6. As per the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, to initiate criminal contempt against an individual, consent is required from the Advocate General of a state.
Criminal contempt is initiated for conduct which is likely to interfere or obstruct the administration of justice, scandalizes or lowers the authority of the court, or prejudices or interferes with the due course of judicial proceeding.
Section 5 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971even provides that fair criticism of a judicial act will not amount to contempt, if it is a fair comment on the merits of the case that has been finally heard and decided.
Significantly, the Supreme Court in multiple judgments has held that, “fair criticism of the conduct of a judge, the institution of the judiciary and its functioning may not amount to contempt if it is made in good faith and in public interest.”
Amid opposition by a section of legal fraternity, Justice Vaidyanathan had to delete contentious paragraphs in his order passed in the Madras Christian College sexual harassment case.
Previously, on August 16, while hearing an internal sexual harassment committee’s proceedings against a faculty member of Madras Christian College, Justice Vaidyanathan had said in his order that “the court feels it appropriate to point out that Christian missionaries are always on the source of attack in one way or the other and in the present era, there are several accusations against them for indulging in compulsory conversions of people of other religions into Christianity. Now there is a general feeling amongst the parents of students, especially female students that co-educational study in Christian institutions is highly unsafe for the future of their children and though they impart good education, the preach of morality will be a million dollar question. As long as religion is practiced in streets in lieu of its worship places, like Temple, Mosque, Church, etc., such devastation, as in the present case, does occur and will keep mushrooming”
Noting that his observations amount to “abuse of office”, “propagation of communal hatred”, “gender bias”, and “judicial bias”, the representation also quoted another controversial statement made by Justice Vaidyanathan during the judgement, “Certain laws, which are in existence for easy access to women, lend itself to easy misuse that women will find it hard to resist the temptation to “teach a lesson” to the male members and will file frivolous and false cases…”
“This is the right time for the government to think of suitable amendments in those laws in order to prevent its misuse so as to safeguard the interest of the innocent masculinity too,” it added, ascribing remarks to Justice Vaidyanathan who had reportedly cited instances of misuse of the anti-dowry law, as, he had observed, “women will find it hard to resist the temptation to ‘teach a lesson’ to male members and will file frivolous and false cases”.