Justice Kurian Joseph, Former SC Judge, Questions Mishra Bench Handling of Contempt Questions

Says substantial questions of law involving the constitution must be handled by bench of at least five judges.

New Delhi: Retired Supreme Court judge Justice Kurian Joseph has released a statement questioning how a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Arun Mishra and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari, handled questions around contempt of court.

According to Justice Joseph, since these questions involve interpretations of the constitution, they must be heard by at least a five-judge bench. He also said that he believes such hearings must be held in person (rather than through video conferencing), since broader discussion and participation is important.

Read the full text of his statement below.


A three Judge bench of the Supreme Court of India has decided to hear a few serious questions on the scope and extent of contempt of Court. Certainly, there are more grave issues, involving substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution of India.

For example, whether a person convicted by the Supreme Court of India in a suo-motu case should get an opportunity for an intra-court appeal since in all other situations of conviction in criminal matters, the convicted person is entitled to have a second opportunity by way of an appeal. Under Section 19 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, an intra-court appeal is provided where the order is passed by the single Judge of the High Court and in case it is by the Division Bench, appeal lies to the Supreme Court of India. This safeguard is provided probably to avoid even the remotest possibility of miscarriage of justice.

Should there not be such a safeguard in the other Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of India also, when there is a conviction in a suo-motu criminal contempt case? “Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum” (let justice be done though the heavens fall) is the fundamental basis of administration of justice by Courts. But, if justice is not done or if there is miscarriage of justice, heavens will certainly fall. The Supreme Court of India should not let it happen.

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Under Article 145 (3) of the Constitution of India, there shall be a quorum of minimum five Judges for deciding any case involving substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution. In both the suo-motu contempt cases, in view of the substantial questions of law on the interpretation of the Constitution of India and having serious repercussions on the fundamental rights, the matters require to be heard by a Constitution Bench. In the case of suo-motu contempt against Justice C. S. Karnan, it was the collective wisdom of the full court of the Supreme Court that the matter should be heard at least by a bench consisting of the seven senior-most Judges. The present contempt cases are not cases involving just one or two individuals; but larger issues pertaining to the concept and jurisprudence of the Country regarding justice itself. Important cases like these need to be heard elaborately in a physical hearing where only there is scope for a broader discussion and wider participation.

Men may come and men may go, but the Supreme Court of India should remain forever as the court of supreme justice.

Justice (Retd.) Kurian Joseph