- 16 May 2022
Prashant Bhushan, a repeated offender, got nailed for his tweets mentioning the supreme court which were condemnatory. The court has finally held him guilty of contempt and a punishment is due to be announced on 20th August. We dwell in to the legalities, the character of the crime committed and details of the contempt proceedings.
On 14 August 2020, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan was found guilty of the criminal contempt of court by the Supreme Court headed by three judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishan Murari. Such incorrect tweets harm the judicial process and spreads distrust among the citizens for the highest court of India. Prashant Bhushan has been a repeated offender of same and has now been convicted for contempt. The final punishment for the same is to be announced on 20th August.
What is the contempt of court here?
The SC reiterated,“When a statement is made against a judge as an individual, contempt jurisdiction would not be available. The object of contempt proceedings is not to afford protection to judges personally from imputations to which they may be exposed as individuals However, when the statement is made against a judge as a judge and which has an adverse effect in the administration of justice, the Court would certainly be entitled to invoke the contempt jurisdiction.”
Consider these points
• If a citizen exceeds his free speech rights in a bona fide manner, the Court would be slow in exercising contempt jurisdiction and show magnanimity. However, when such a statement is calculated in order to malign the image of judiciary, the Court would not remain a silent spectator. When the authority of this Court is itself under attack, the Court would not be a onlooker.
• If constructive criticism is made in order to enable systemic correction in the system, the Court would not invoke the contempt jurisdiction. However, the Court will act with seriousness and severity where justice is jeopardized by a gross and/or unfounded attack on the judges and where the attack is calculated to obstruct or destroy the judicial process.
• it is not necessary that there should in fact be an actual interference with the course of administration of justice but it is enough if the offending publication is likely or if it tends in any way to interfere with the proper administration of law.
• No act can be permitted, which may have the tendency to shake the public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the administration of justice.
The judiciary cannot be immune from criticism. However, when that criticism is based on obvious distortion or gross misstatement and made in a manner which seems designed to lower respect for the judiciary and destroy public confidence in it, it cannot be ignored. An action for contempt of court should not be frequently or lightly taken. But, at the same time, the Court should not abstain from using this weapon even when its use is needed to correct standards of behaviour in a grossly and repeatedly erring quarter.
In the 108 page judgement, passed by the honourable Supreme Court, it addressed the objections raised by advocate Prashant Bhushan over the listing of the case on the judicial side without the consent of the attorney general after a complaint over Prashant Bhushan’s tweet was registered first by advocate Mehak Maheshwari.
The honourable Supreme Court registered the suo Motu case relying on the recent ruling of the apex court in case :- Vijay Kurle and others.
The tweet that led to the contempt
In one of the tweets, Mr Prashant Bhushan advocate commented on a picture of honourable chief Justice of India SA Bobde.
The chief Justice of India click the picture sitting an expensive motorbike. Advocate Prashant Bhushan commented, “CJI Rides a 50,00,00 motorcycle belonging to BJP leader at Raj Bhavan Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice”
The bench of three judges found this to be falls on the ground that the Supreme Court was on vacation at that time. Even during this period, benches of the Supreme Court were regularly functioning.
The physical hearing was also suspended in view of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, But virtual hearing was being conducted. The total number of sittings in the various benches from 23 March 2020 till 4 August 2020 is 879. During this period the court has heard 12,748 matters. In the said period the court has dealt with 686 petitions filed under article 32 of the Constitution of India.
Over the above mentioned tweet, The court Took a note, “The impression that the said tweet intends to give is that the CJI as the head of the Indian judiciary has kept the Supreme Court in lockdown mode, thereby denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice.”
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, the contemner was in the court at the time of the hearing of the case as a litigant and as an advocate
The statement that this to Supreme Court is in lock down is factually incorrect and patently false, even to the knowledge of Bhushan. He has made the scanned alias and malicious statement having himself availed the right of access to justice during the said period not only as a lawyer but also other litigant.
The honourable Supreme Court also said:-
"In this premise, making such wild allegation thereby giving an impression, that the CJI is enjoying riding an expensive bike, while he keeps the SC in lockdown mode and thereby denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice, is undoubtedly false, malicious and scandalous. It has the tendency to shake the confidence of the public at large in the institution of judiciary and the institution of the CJI and undermining the dignity and authority of the administration of justice. We are unable to accept the contention of the alleged contemnor No.1, that the said statement was a bona fide criticism made by him on account of his anguish of non functioning of the courts physically."
The 2nd controversial Tweet that led to contempt
It read, "When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs."
In the above mentioned tweet, the Supreme Court said that it is not going to comment on the first part of the tweet which is regarding the alleged destruction of Indian normal Chrissy over the last six years, as the Supreme Court does not want to convert this proceeding into a platform for political debates.
The honourable court then mentioned about the later part of the tweet, in which the court observed, “gives an impression, that the Supreme Court has a particular role in the destruction of democracy in the last six years and the last four CJIs had a more particular role in the same."
Considering that the tweet publication reaches millions of people and the fact that advocate Bhushan has been practising from the last 30 years in the Supreme Court on the Delhi High Court the court said “The scurrilous allegations, which are malicious in nature and have the tendency to scandalize the Court are not expected from a person, who is a lawyer of 30 years standing. In our considered view, it cannot be said that the above tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest."
The supreme court further held, "In our considered view, the said tweet undermines the dignity and authority of the institution of the Supreme Court of India and the CJI and directly affronts the majesty of law”. The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing of ‘criminal contempt.’"
SC also observed, "If such an attack is not dealt with, with requisite degree of firmness, it may affect the national honour and prestige in the comity of nations. Fearless and impartial courts of justice are the bulwark of a healthy democracy and the confidence in them cannot be permitted to be impaired by malicious attacks upon them."
Therefore, the honourable Supreme Court found advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt. The Supreme Court in its order also held that the Twitter platform is only an intermediatory and does not have any control on what the user post on its platform. “It has also showed bonafides immediately after the cognizance was taken by the court and it has suspended both the tweets. We, therefore, discharge the notice issued to the alleged contemner no. 2 i.e. twitter.”
Prashant Bhusan was well protected by courts, for his communal tweets against the Ramayana telecast on Durdarshan.When an FIR was lodged by former Army personnel Jaidev Rajnikant Joshi, at Rajkot, alleging that Bhushan hurt religious sentiments of Hindus by tweeting against re-telecast of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata serials on DD, the Apex court came to his rescue and granted immunity to the senior advocate but yet he kept abusing his power.
It can be noted that from time to time, a contempt is as necessary as the freedom to express is. Simply because, if a senior advocate doesn’t respect the Apex Court and spreads falsehood for skewed political gains, then what trust common man will have left in judgements held by the courts? Prashant Bhusan, knew this very well but he kept abusing his power under the garb of seniority and rightly got nailed by contempt.
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