Madras High Court has decided not to pursue the ill-conceived attempt to initiate action against film actor Suriya for contempt of court.
The actor had questioned the correctness of the Supreme Court in allowing NEET to be held across the country during the pandemic when the Court itself was holding virtual hearings out of fear of infection.
It was clear from the beginning that it constituted no contempt, as it did nothing more than raise the question whether courts that went virtual in the interest of the safety of judges, lawyers, staff and litigants, could afford to risk the health of thousands of students.
The Advocate-General, whose opinion was sought by the Chief Justice of the High Court, declined consent for initiation of criminal contempt proceedings.
In a detailed order, the Court has noted that “it is not the job of a constitutional court to use a sledgehammer for avoidance of something which can be perceived to be not capable of even being propped up as contempt, much less debated to the level of criminal contempt”, rightly so.
The 29-page order lays much emphasis on the idea that criticism about the judiciary should be restrained, lest the line of fair comment is crossed.
There is a lengthy section on the need for prudence and restraint on exuberance, but such observations would be relevant only if made in the context of a harsh attack on the judiciary.
While the advice for restraint is reasonable and well-articulated, it should not open up the possibility of more such demands for contempt action in the name of deterring unfair criticism.