Not peevish about being called names but can’t tolerate obstruction of court functioning: Delhi HC

The Delhi High Court Wednesday said it was not “peevish” about being “called names” and welcomed free and fair criticism but asserted it cannot tolerate obstruction of the judicial system.

The court’s remarks came while dealing with a contempt case against several individuals over certain alleged remarks against its sitting judge in 2018.

“We welcome just and fair criticism. If you have just and fair criticism of courts, you are free to …(but) what can’t be appreciated is something that we can’t say lowers the majesty of court but obstructs functioning of the court, the system. That we will not tolerate,” a bench headed by Justice Siddharth Mridul said.

“We are not peevish about being called names but we are very concerned when system is obstructed,” added the bench, also comprising Justice Anish Dayal.

In 2018, certain tweets alleging bias against Justice S Muralidhar, who was then a judge of the Delhi High Court and recently retired as the chief justice of the Orissa High Court, were posted by certain persons as he had released rights activist Gautam Navlakha from house arrest in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case.

Subsequently, contempt of court proceedings were initiated against alleged contemnors filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, Ranganathan and others by the high court.

Counsel for author Anand Ranganathan Wednesday told the court he has filed an affidavit “clarifying his position” that his statement, which is under scrutiny in the contempt proceedings, was a “not a comment on the specific facts of the case” but was general in nature and he “has no skin the game”.

He said tendering an unconditional apology in the matter would amount to acceptance of the allegations of contemptuous conduct.

His lawyer had earlier told the court his statement was only in relation to his position that there should be no practice of contempt of court.

Counsel for another alleged contemnor, a magazine which was stated to have published information on the offending content, said it has already filed an affidavit tendering unconditional apology and the article has also been taken down.

The court listed the matter for hearing on November 9.

The high court had initiated the contempt proceedings in the present case on its own in 2018 after receiving a letter from senior advocate Rajshekhar Rao.

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The contempt proceedings were also initiated against Swaminathan Gurumurthy, the editor of the Chennai-based weekly, “Thuglak”, for his tweets against the judge.

The proceedings against Gurumurthy were subsequently closed in October 2019. Earlier this year, the court accepted the apology tendered by Agnihotri and discharged him.

Rao, in his letter, had stated that the tweets were a deliberate attempt to attack a high court judge.

Earlier, the court had directed two social media platforms to block the weblinks to an offending article levelling scandalous allegations against the judge.

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