The Supreme Court on Wednesday dropped 24-year old contempt proceedings against veteran journalist Arun Shourie for writing in 1990 against its then sitting judge, who was heading a Commission appointed to probe into acts of omissions and commissions against former Karnataka Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde.
A five judge bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha held that a Commission of Inquiry set up by the government does not become an extended arm of this Court just because it is being headed by its sitting Judge.
"We do not have any doubt that functions of the Commission appointed under the 1952 Act are not like a body discharging judicial functions or judicial power. The Commission appointed under the 1952 Act in our view is not a Court and making the inquiry or determination of facts by the Commission is not of judicial character," the bench said.
The bench, also comprising justices Anil R Dave, S J Mukhopadhaya, Dipak Misra, Shiva Kirti Singh, also held that in contempt matter truth is a defence if it is in public interest and the request for invoking said defence is bona fide.
The contempt proceedings against Shourie was initiated on a petition filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who submitted that editorial published in a national daily on August 13, 1990, on one man Commission headed by Justice Kuldip Singh amounts to criminal contempt. The apex court also took suo motu cognisance.
Justice Kuldip Singh, the then sitting Judge of the Supreme Court, was appointed as Chairman, Commission of Inquiry under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 to probe into alleged acts of omissions and commissions by Hegde,former Chief Minister of Karnataka. The Commission submitted its report on June 22, 1990.
"The Commission constituted under the 1952 Act is a fact finding body to enable the appropriate government to decide as to the course of action to be followed. Such Commission is not required to adjudicate upon the rights of the parties and has no adjudicatory functions. The government is not bound to accept its recommendations or act upon its findings.
"The mere fact that the procedure adopted by the Commission is of a legal character and it has the power to administer oath will not clothe it with the status of Court. That being so, in our view, the Commission appointed under the 1952 Act is not a Court for the purposes of Contempt of Courts Act even though it is headed by a sitting Supreme Court Judge," the bench said.