South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The government placed a bill in parliament yesterday seeking to enact a new law on contempt of court, with provisions for protection of government officials from the charge while on official duty.

The proposed legislation placed by Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shafique Ahmed came up with a definition of contempt of court to clear confusions in the public mind regarding the charge.

About publishing news on judicial proceedings, the bill says neutral and objective reporting will not be considered as contempt of court.

Publishing comments on the merits of a case after its final disposal will also not be considered as contempt of court.

It proposes to keep the punishment for the offence as it is in the existing Contempt of Court Act of 1926.

Under the present law, an individual may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term of up to six months, or with a fine of up to Tk 2,000 or both.

The bill defines two types of contempt of court — civil and criminal.

Breach of pledges made before a court, or intentional undermining of a court’s verdicts, decrees, directives, orders, writs or proceedings will be considered as civil contempt.

Verbal, written, symbolic, or displayed expression of undermining the authority of a court, or expression of such intention, or creating obstacle to judicial proceedings will be considered as criminal contempt, says the bill.

In defence of enacting the new law, by scrapping the existing one enacted in 1926 during the British colonial regime, the law minister said the current law on contempt of court is unclear and also incomplete to a large extent.

There are confusions in peoples’ minds regarding punishment for contempt of court due to inadequacies of the law, he added.

He said aggrieved people file contempt of court cases against government officials accusing them as individuals, although the officials work maintaining existing laws, rules, regulations, orders, and customs.

As cases of contempt of court are filed against individual persons, the accused government officials have to personally bear all expenses for fighting the cases including lawyers’ fees and court fees.

“Officials feel discouraged in discharging their duties due to the sufferings caused by contempt of court charges,” the minister said.

The bill proposes that a government official will not face contempt of court charge while engaged in the republic’s work for public interest following existing laws, rules, regulations and other circulars.

If a government official faces a contempt of court charge, he or she can contest the charge through government lawyers, the bill says.

The bill was sent to the parliamentary standing committee on law, justice and parliamentary affairs ministry for scrutiny, with a deadline of three weeks for submission of a report.

Source: The Daily Star – 15.06.2011