The Supreme Court granted an interim stay on Monday regarding the 15-day simple imprisonment imposed by the Madras High Court on retired IPS officer G Sampath Kumar in a contempt of court case filed by former Team India cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
A bench of Justices A S Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan also issued notice to concerned respondents on the plea filed by IPS officer Sampath Kumar.
The matter has been scheduled for next hearing on March 8, 2024.
The high court, on December 15 last year, found Kumar guilty of committing criminal contempt and sentenced him to 15-day simple imprisonment.
In his contempt petition, Dhoni sought to punish Kumar for the remarks made by him against the judiciary in his written statement filed in response to a Rs 100 crore defamation suit. Dhoni had moved the court in 2014 against the former cop for having named the popular cricketer in the Indian Premier League (IPL) betting scam. In its order, the high court stated that Kumar had consciously attempted to scandalize and lower the authority of both the high court and the Supreme Court.
It was established that an affidavit or any pleading presented by a party before the court was an act of publication.
The high court emphasized that Kumar, through his specific words, indecently attacked the judiciary with the intention to scandalize and undermine the dignity and majesty of both the high court and the apex court. When a general statement was made against the high court for granting an interim order, describing the order as an abuse of process of law, it was not considered a fair comment. Similarly, accusing the Supreme Court of failing to focus on the “Rule of Law” cannot be accepted as a fair expression of grievance in the dispute, the bench added.
The high court noted that Kumar, as a responsible police officer who had the occasion to investigate a crime, cannot extend freedom of speech and expression to undermine the statutory limits outlined in the Contempt of Courts Act.
Since the maintenance of the dignity of courts is a cardinal principle of the Rule of Law, any publication or public speech that results in undermining it cannot be permitted, as held by the Supreme Court in several precedents, the high court stated.
The Contempt of Courts Act, according to the high court, has been enacted to secure public respect and confidence in the judiciary as an institution.
The court concluded that if individuals like Sampath Kumar were allowed to shake the public’s confidence in the impartial administration of justice, it should be treated as an attack on the judiciary. The high court was convinced that Kumar’s statements were intended to scandalize the court, lower its authority, and destroy public confidence in the administration of justice.