Ex-Madras HC judges urge CJ not to take contempt action against Suriya

Tamil Nadu Advocates Association, however, condemned Suriya’s statement

Suriya-sivakumar via Facebook

Six former judges of the Madras High Court have written to Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi, urging him not to take contempt action against actor Suriya for his remarks on NEET and virtual courts. The judges have appealed to the Chief Justice to leave the matter without cognisance as it requires no action.

On Sunday, the Tamil actor expressed his opinion on his Twitter page against NEET and courts, following which Justice S.M. Subramaniam wrote to the CJ, asking him to initiate contempt proceedings against Suriya.

Justices K. Chandru, K.N. Basha, T. Sudhanthiram, D. Hariparanthaman, A. Kannan and G.M. Akbar Ali sent a letter to Sahi stating that the statement by Suriya does not require any action as requested by Justice Subramaniam. “It does not require any action as requested by the learned judge. Where four students have committed suicide unable to meet the NEET requirement and in a surcharged atmosphere, an artistic person’s overreaction should not be taken seriously and out of context,” the former justices said in the plea. They said that by taking the comments in totality and considering the social work done by the actor through his trust, helping hundreds of poor students get education and placements, the judges should show “generosity and magnanimity in leaving the matter without cognizance”.

Disagreeing with Justice Subramaniam’s opinion that the comment by Suriya amounted to contempt of court, the former justices also noted that “such a construction of the statements of Suriya will be slightly off the mark”. They also said that, as former judges, they were concerned with the prestige and honour of the court. “It is our duty to make the appeal so that the court is rid of unnecessary controversies.”

On the other hand, 25 Madras High Court lawyers led by seniors N.G.R. Prasad and Sudha Ramalingam, have also written to Sahi stating that initiation of contempt of court proceedings against Suriya would amount to stifling of freedom of speech and expression. “It is true that the question whether the courts should function physically or not is for the committee of Judges presided over by the Chief Justice to decide. However, the actor’s statement is only an expression of an opinion and cannot amount to contempt. If a request is made, that too by a High Court Judge, for initiation of contempt proceedings then nobody can express their opinion. Off 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 of freedom of speech and expression. This would have a chilling effect on basic constitutional guarantees.” The letter was written by High Court lawyers including Anna Mathew, designated senior counsel V. Prakash, V. Suresh of Peoples Union of Civil Liberties, D. Nagasaila, T. Mohan and D. Geetha.

Tamil Nadu Advocates Association, led by designate senior counsel S. Prabhakaran, however, wrote to the CJ saying that Suriya’s statement was highly condemnable. He said that 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 Supreme Court amounted to “interference in judicial functions”.

Meanwhile, on his Twitter page, actor Suriya called for the people to come together to help students who have been suffering during the pandemic. In a video he said, “Change happens in a house if one person gets education. But if each one gets education, the entire nation will change. Many students drop out of schools due to financial crisis. If we think, we can change this.” The video also has visuals of his Agaram foundation which helps students pursue their dreams and the Agaram COVID-19 fund which he distributed to the frontline workers. The video also said that, till September 13, Agaram had received 3,030 applications from students seeking help.