WAS IT CONTEMPT OF COURT “NO PUBLIC DUTY”
We have carefully considered the various statements made by the respondents and invited them at hearing to give any intelligible explanation or excuse for their conduct. None such was forthcoming. In his letter of the 11th December, 1919, the respondent Gandhi contends that in publishing and commenting on the letter he performed a useful public duty at a time when there was a great tension and when even the judiciary was being affected by the popular prejudice. Commonsense would answer that if that tension and popular prejudice existed, it would be increased rather than diminished by abuse of the Local Judge and that this could not be the public duty of any good citizen.
But there would seem to be some strange misconception in the minds of the respondents as to the legitimate liberties of a journalist. Otherwise the respondent Gandhi could hardly have contended before us, as he in fact did, that if a son brought a suit against a father and if a journalist thought that the son’s action was wrong, the journalist would be justified in holding the son up to public ridicule in the public press, notwithstanding that the suit was still undecided. I need hardly say that this contention is erroneous. It may however be, that principles which are quite familiar in England are imperfectly known or understood in India, and that the respondents have paid more attention to the liberty of the press than to the duties which accompany that and every other liberty. This has much weighed with me in considering what order the Court ought to pass in this case.
We have large powers and in appropriate cases can commit offenders to prison for such period as we think fit and can impose fines of such amount as we may judge right; but just as our powers are large so ought we, I think, to use them with direction and with moderation, remembering that the only object we have in view is to enforce the due administration of justice for popular benefit.
In the present case the Court has very seriously considered whether it ought not to impose a substantial fine on one if not both of the respondents, but on the whole, I think it is sufficient for the Court to state the law in terms which I hope will leave no room for doubt in the future, and to confine our order to severely reprimanding the respondents and warning them both as to their future conduct.