Mumbai: Observing that the judiciary cannot be a ‘soft target’, the Bombay High Court on Thursday sentenced journalist-turned-activist Ketan Tirodkar to three-month imprisonment for posting objectionable material on his Facebook account against sitting and retired judges. A three-judge bench of the High Court also said judges are not ‘helpless’ and instead wield wide range of powers and thus do not need any protection or defence.
The bench also emphasised on the need to regulate the conduct of netizens, who often indulge in attacking judges at a personal level under the garb of freedom of speech and expression. “If the Government of the day does nothing to prohibit social media users from indulging in such acts, that does not mean that the judiciary will take no action. Let everybody know judiciary is not helpless and it wields enormous powers and cannot be a soft target,” the bench said.
“We wish to remind members of the public and particularly the social media users if they continue tarnishing and maligning the judiciary and judges, a day will come when none will come forward to protect them and their properties. That would be a sad day and we must avoid that at all costs,” the bench headed by Justice Abhay Oka said.
The bench also comprised Justices Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari and Rajendra Sawant had taken up suo moto contempt proceedings against Tirodkar for scandalising judiciary through his social media posts. He had labelled some sitting female judges as ‘prostitutes’ and had accused several sitting and retired judges of corruption.
Taking note of his allegations, the bench said, “Under the garb of criticising judgments, judges are personally attacked on Facebook and social media and are ridiculed and disrespected openly. They do not and rather cannot utter a word in defence but that does not mean that they are helpless. They do not speak because they are aware that judges perform a sovereign and regal function and therefore, judges are not looking out for protectors or defenders.”
In his defence, Tirodkar highlighted the numerous PILs, he has been filing before the HC on various issues affecting the public at large. The bench trashed his argument saying, “Such a person is expected to act sensibly and responsibly. However, that is belied by his scurrilous, highly offensive, vicious, intimidatory and malicious allegations against sitting judges of this court.”
“It is not the claim of the judiciary that it commits no wrong or error in discharge of its obligations and duty to the people. A fair criticism of judicial act is not contempt. It is of equal relevance to note that administration of justice cannot be brought into ridicule or disrepute,” the bench said. The bench also held that the freedom to speech and expression is not at all absolute.
“Being a social media user confers no licence or a permit to cross limits of decency or morality or committing a contempt. One cannot defame others in the name of freedom of speech and expression. That freedom is not so absolute as is now thought to be, but subject to a reasonable restriction,” Justice Dharmadhikari said in his judgment. Meanwhile, a single-judge bench of Justice P Naik granted him bail in the case.