The Curious Case of Brinda Thounaojam

As expected of our outraged comrades online, Thounaojam’s case saw a divide between those who felt she was being victimized and those who felt she had undermined the majesty of the institution of Courts

“If you don’t know there’s a trampoline in the room, you’re not going to dust the ceiling for prints” – American TV Series Law & Order

Apparently frustrated by the order of interim bail granted on medical ground in favour of alleged druglord and former ADC chairman Lhukhosei Zou, ASP Brinda Thounaojam quite literally offered to teach, the Special Judge, ND & PS, law for free while asking the Special Judge to stop selling the Motherland. A subsequent Facebook post saw her accusing the entire legal fraternity, i.e. the bar and bench, of ganging up against a small police officer for standing up to gross injustices which affects public interest and the future of all children. She further accused the Special Judge of desecrating the sanctity of the court by being biased and abusing power to influence the outcome of the case.

The post going viral is an understatement. The comments poured in with the deluge of online vitriol and hate. Few ignore, but most jump onto the ‘hear me – my opinion best’ bandwagon, regrettably through a lopsided lens of information. As expected of our outraged comrades online, Thounaojam’s case saw a divide between those who felt she was being victimized and those who felt she had undermined the majesty of the institution of courts. We saw arguments being hurled back and forth between her supporters and her detractors, leading to headlines such as “Manipur Govt under pressure after drug lord gets bail”, “Book addl SP Brinda for alleged ‘derogatory’ comments, Judicial association tells cyber crime unit” et al.

Curiously, the order of the Special Judge as well that of the high court reflects her misbehaving in court after being denied an opportunity to cross examine the witness by threating the witness and Trudeau Saluting the Special Judge while the order was being dictated. Surprisingly, none of the print and electronic media, to my knowledge, seemed to carry this information. In a time when a Judge’s comments are a click away, it was surprising to find no mention of such behavior inside the court. A few print and electronic media finally reported the purported misbehavior after the high court issued notice to ASP Thounaojam. 

As a student of law, a bare perusal of these conduct would suggest contempt of court. Scurrilous and scandalous allegations tantamount to contempt. According to me, the high court has rightly pointed out social media as not a forum for grievance redressal. An order is amenable to challenge by an aggrieved person before an Appellate Authority. It is a matter of right. Since the matter pending before the Special Judge is against the state, the state government can very well take a call to move for cancellation of bail or challenge the interim bail itself.

Of course, under the right context, criticism of Judiciary is a welcome approach, but the benefits of criticism should not outweigh the propriety of protocol and conduct accorded to the institution as a whole. The Supreme Court has time and again acknowledged any citizen’s right to fair criticism of any judgment delivered by any court, including the Supreme Court itself.

However, the Supreme Court is also of the opinion that no one has the right to attribute motives to a Judge or to question thebona fidesof a Judge or to raise question with regards to a Judge’s competence. 

In Dr DC Saxena’s case, the Supreme Court held thatbona fidecriticisms of judgments cannot amount to criticism, however, if the allegations levelled go beyond the ambit of critic and scandalize the Court then such utterances or written words would amount to contempt of Court. Even in Vijay Kurle’s case, the Supreme Court reiterated that the purpose of law of contempt is not to prevent fair criticism but to ensure that the respect and confidence in the institution is not undermined in any manner whatsoever.

In the words of Hon’ble Mr Justice Sanjay Kisan Kaul,Criticism is also information, but boundaries need to be made or if such criticism becomes part of misinformation... This is not good for the system... If you mistrust every system, then you do not have a system and all you have is anarchy.”(sic)

Notice has been issued to ASP Thounaojam and her appearance has been sought by the High Court. At this point, apart from her rants online, we have not heard her side of the story. All we can do is wait and see as the entire process unfolds.

First Published:June 4, 2020, 12:06 a.m.