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Indian Case Summary

E. M. Sankaran Namboodiripad vs T. Narayanan Nambiar on 31 July, 1970 – Case Summary

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In the case of E. M. Sankaran Namboodiripad vs T. Narayanan Nambiar on 31 July, 1970, the Supreme Court of India was confronted with a significant issue concerning the balance between freedom of speech and the law of contempt. The case revolved around the appellant, E. M. Sankaran Namboodiripad, who was the Chief Minister of Kerala at the time, and his remarks about the judiciary, which were deemed derogatory and contemptuous.

Facts of the Case

Namboodiripad, during a press conference held on November 9, 1967, made various critical remarks about the judiciary, referring to it as “an instrument of oppression” and the judges as “dominated by class hatred, class prejudices,” instinctively favoring the rich against the poor. He further stated that the judiciary, as part of the ruling classes, “works against workers, peasants, and other sections of the working classes” and that “the law and the system of judiciary essentially served the exploiting classes.”

These remarks were reported in the newspapers, and proceedings were initiated in the High Court, where the appellant was asked to show cause why he should not be committed for contempt. In his defense, Namboodiripad stated that the reports were “substantially correct,” though incomplete in some respects. He claimed that his observations were an expression of the Marxist philosophy and the program of the Communist Party of India.

Issues and Court’s Observations

The main issue before the court was whether the appellant’s remarks constituted contempt of court, and if so, whether they were protected under the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.

The court held that the law punishes not only acts that interfere with the courts and administration of justice but also those that have the tendency to do so. The court observed that the appellant’s words had the effect of lowering the prestige of judges and courts in the eyes of the people. The court also noted that the appellant had misunderstood the teachings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, and had wrongly equated their attack on the state and the laws as an attack on the judiciary.

The court further observed that while the spirit underlying Article 19(1)(a) must have due play, it could not overlook the provisions of the second clause of that Article, which imposes restrictions in relation to contempt of court. The court held that while the right to freedom of speech and expression is essential to a free society, the Constitution itself has imposed restrictions in relation to contempt of court.

Conclusion

Upholding the appellant’s conviction, the court emphasized that the freedom of speech and expression will always prevail except where contempt is manifest, mischievous, or substantial. The court concluded that the appellant’s remarks constituted contempt of court and were not protected under the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution. The appellant was convicted for contempt of court and fined Rs. 1000 or simple imprisonment for one month.