Attack on Lok Man Singh Karki is a crime; who will punish the contemner?
It’s often called that innocence is the original state. There is a well-settled principle that the accused will be innocent until proven guilty by the order of a court of law. However, the recent black shoot smearing on the face of suspended chief of Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the country’s main Anti-corruption Agency, has raised many eyebrows. The act of smearing black on the face of Lok Man Singh Karki within the Court complex is example suffice to make a conclusion that there are some authorities, other than judges, who holds so called authority to punish an accused prior to his conviction.
Apart from defamation, the act also amounts to contempt of court as it was an act which interfered with the administration of justice.
Contempt of Court:
Halsbury’s Law of England defines contempt of court as “Any act done or writing published which is calculated to bring a court or judge into contempt or to lower his authority or to interfere with the due course of justice or the lawful process of the court is contempt of court.”
As per Corpus Juris Secondum, the contempt of court is “disobedience to court by acting in opposition to the authority, justice and dignity thereof. It also signifies such conduct as a tendency to bring the authority of the court and the administration of law into disrespect.” In short, the law books define the contempt of court as an act or omission which interferes or tends to interfere with the administration of justice.
So, by construing the legal definitions of contempt of court, one can reach to a conclusion that the act of youth cadres to smear black ink on the face of Mr. Karki was contempt of court as the act had undoubtedly hampered the procedure of the court.
In the case of Hira Lal Dixit Versus State of UP (1954), the Supreme Court of India held that any act which lowers the authority of the court or interferes with the due course of judicial proceeding or administration of justice would amount to contempt of court. The Apex court was of the opinion that strict liability should be imposed on them who is found guilty of contempt of court.
It’s a Criminal Contempt:
The much-admired jurist Blackstone believes that a crime is the violation of public rights and duties. However, for Austin, a crime is an act or omission which law punishes.
The meaning of crime is much expressed in the undisputed legal maxim of “Actus non-facit reum nisi men sit rea.” The maxim can be translated as “an act does not make one guilty unless the mind is also guilty.” The long stayed maxim clarifies that to constitute a crime, there must be a guilty mind or an ill-intention.
The act of youths to smear black ink was also within the ambit crime as the people deployed for this purpose were much known about their act and consequences. In crime, the intention is taken to mean a conscious state in which mental faculties are aroused into action for the purpose of achieving a conceived end. In Re Subramanyam Case (1943), the Lahore High Court of Pakistan held that to constitute criminal contempt the knowledge that the act complained of will produce a contumacious act, and he may be held liable for the criminal contempt. The court was of the view that any act interfering the normal court procedure or administration of justice would fall within the meaning of contempt.
Meanwhile, the Section 2 (c) of India’s Contempt of Court Act, 1971 defines contempt as the publication or doing of any other act which interferes or tends to interfere with or obstructs or tends to obstruct the administration of justice in any other manner.
So, the act to smear black ink is also beyond any reasonable doubt an obstruction of the administration of justice which amounts to criminal contempt.
Abuse of Court:
In 2001, India also witnessed the similar scenario where a rally was staged in front of Supreme Court and people were in sit-in protest (Dharna). The question before the court was whether holding ‘Dharna’ in court complex is within the meaning of the right to speech and expression or not. While deciding the question in the case of JR Parashar Versus Prashant Bhushan (2001), the supreme Court of India observed that “holding a Dharna by itself may not amount to contempt of court, but if by holding a Dharna access to the courts is hindered and the officers of the court and the members of police are not allowed to free ingress and egress or the proceedings in court are otherwise disrupted, disturbed or hampered, the Dharna may amount to contempt because the administration of justice would be obstructed.”
Every person is entitled to the redress of his grievances through the assistance of the court. It is the main function of the court to decide the disputes between the parties. Consequently, any conduct which prevents or tends to prevent a party to obtain the remedy through the court amounts to contempt of court as it interferes with the course of justice.
The jurists are at even to assert that the parties to the litigation must be protected from undue interferences not only in the court but also on his way to or from the court. Thus, “assaulting a party in the lobby of court is contempt of court,” held the highest court of land in England while deciding the case of R Versus Wigley in 1835.
Similarly, “any conduct by which the course of justice is perverted either by a party or a stranger is contempt of court,” held the House of Lords in England while deciding a question in the case of Smith Versus Bond (1845).
From the above discussion, one thing becomes clear that the act of smearing black ink in a broad daylight on a party to litigation within the court premise is disruption of the court procedure which amounts to contempt of court.
It’s a well-settled principle that a person should be treated innocent unless he is convicted by the court of law. However, the power of punishing an accused cannot be transferred to a faceless mob. It’s the court which is authorized to convict or acquit suspended Anti-Corruption Agency Chief Lok Man Singh Karki. A mob is not authorized to punish Mr. Karki or anyone who is accused of an offense.
It would set a wrong precedent that the court complex in Nepal can also be taken as a political ring for protest or staging rallies. Apart from defamation, the act is a serious contempt of court and contemnor should be dealt strictly to set a right precedent: Innocence is the original state and the court of law is exclusively empowered to convict or acquit any accused of a crime.
*Jivesh Jha is LL.B final year Nepali student in Dehradun, India. He holds Bachelor of Media Studies from Kathmandu University, Nepal.