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[Read judgment] SC limits contempt law in killing Swamy's 24-year-old Arun Shourie contempt case

A Supreme Court constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) RM Lodha and four other judges yesterday dropped the contempt of court proceedings started by Subramanian Swamy against then-Indian Express editor Arun Shourie, wrote the Times of India in a detailed report including the case’s history.

An August 1990 editorial in the Express was severely critical of Supreme Court Justice Kuldip Singh, who headed a commission into the former Karnataka chief minister, writing:

If there had been any sense of honour or shame, a Judge would never have done any of this. If there were any residual sense of honour or shame, the Judge having done any of it and having been found doing it, would have vacated his seat. But this is India. Of 1990, the CommissionerKuldip Singh having perpetrated such perversities willcontinue to sit in judgment on the fortunes and reputations ofcountless citizens. He will continue to do so from nothingless than the Supreme Court of India itself.

The Supreme Court bench, however, held that contempt powers did not extend to commissions headed by judges and certain tribunals, according to judgments cited by the court:

” ... merely because a Commission ofInquiry is headed by a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court, it does notbecome an extended arm of this Court.The Commission constitutedunder the 1952 Act is a fact finding body to enable the appropriateGovernment to decide as to the course of action to be followed. SuchCommission is not required to adjudicate upon the rights of the parties andhas no adjudicatory functions. The Government is not bound to accept itsrecommendations or act upon its findings.The mere fact that theprocedure adopted by the Commission is of a legal character and it hasthe power to administer oath will not clothe it with the status of Court. Thatbeing so, in our view, the Commission appointed under the 1952 Act is nota Court for the purposes of Contempt of Courts Act even though it isheaded by a sitting Supreme Court Judge.

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