Six former judges, 25 lawyers write to Chief Justice not to initiate contempt proceedings against actor Suriya
The former judges said, “Actor’s “over reaction” should not be taken seriously and out of context.”by Mohamed Imranullah S.
A day after Justice S.M. Subramaniam of the Madras High Court sought contempt proceedings against actor Suriya for his remarks against the judiciary on the issue of National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), six retired judges of the court wrote to Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi on Monday requesting him not to initiate any such action.
Justices K. Chandru, K.N. Basha, T. Sudanthiram, D. Hariparanthaman, K. Kannan and G.M. Akbar Ali said the judiciary must show “generosity and magnanimity” by not taking cognisance of the actor’s statement. Stating that they were concerned about the prestige and honour of the institution, the former judges said the court should leave the matter as it was and get rid of unnecessary controversies.
In his communication to the Chief Justice on September 13, Justice Subramaniam had taken exception to the actor having said that the judiciary, which had been conducting its own proceedings through virtual mode “due to fear of life”, was however expecting medical and dental seat aspirants alone to sit for NEET without any fear of coronavirus (COVID-19).
“The said statement, in my considered opinion, amounts to contempt of court as the integrity and devotion of honourable judges as well as the judicial system of our great nation are not only undermined but criticised in a bad shape,” the judge had said.
Countering his views, the six retired judges said, “We are afraid that such a construction made on the statement of Mr. Suriya will be slightly off the mark.”
Pointing out that the actor, involved in social work such as educating children and finding employment for youngsters through his Agaram Foundation, had made the statement in a surcharged atmosphere, when as many as four students had committed suicide in the State one after the other due to fear of NEET, the former judges said: “An artistic person’s over reaction should not be taken seriously and out of context.”
Separately, 25 High Court lawyers including N.G.R. Prasad, Sudha Ramalingam, Anna Mathew, designated senior counsel V. Prakash, V. Suresh of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, D. Nagasaila, T. Mohan & D. Geetha also wrote a letter to the Chief Justice stating that the actor’s statement was just an expression of opinion and not a contemptuous act.
“Of late, every criticism of the judiciary is being seen as contemptuous. As practising lawyers, we feel that if expression of an opinion is treated as contempt, it would amount to stifling the freedom of speech and expression. This would have a chilling effect on basic constitutional guarantees,” they said.
“The Supreme Court too has held that dissent is the safety valve of democracy. In a democratic country governed by the rule of law, there should be space for a wide array of opinions on any issue. We, therefore, request your Lordship not to initiate contempt and thereby uphold the majesty of the law and of courts,” their representation read.
On the contrary, Tamil Nadu Advocates Association led by designated senior counsel S. Prabakaran, who was also the vice-chairman of Bar Council of India, wrote to the Chief Justice stating that Suriya’s statement was highly condemnable. He said it was the Supreme Court which had ordered for conduct of NEET this year and hence the actor’s criticism of such an order passed by the apex court amounted to interference in judicial functions.
Accusing Mr. Suriya of making such statements for the sake of publicity, the TNAA said he had crossed the limits this time by accusing judges of conducting virtual courts due to fear for their lives. According to TNAA courts had been dispensing justice even during the troubled times of COVID-19 and they had disposed of a good number of cases through both physical and virtual hearings. Actors must be responsible and not make public statements like movie dialogues, it said.