The Supreme Court on Friday found advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of the contempt of court for two tweets regarding the institution of the Supreme Court and the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI).
A three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari pronounced judgment to this effect today. The bench fixed August 20 as the next date when it would hear Bhushan on the quantum of punishment.
The decision came to be passed in suo motu contempt proceedings initiated by the apex court on July 22 against Bhushan for his tweets which, according to the court, brought disrepute to the administration of justice and could undermine, in the eyes of the public, the dignity and authority of the Supreme Court in general and the CJI’s office in particular.
Bhushan had made the following tweets-
A) “CJI rides a 50 Lakh motorcycle belonging to a 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!”
B) “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 his defence, Bhushan had that his tweets were protected under freedom of speech and expression. He cited several national and international judgments along with excerpts from speeches delivered by Supreme Court judges on the topic of freedom of expression and democracy.
Also Read: Bonafide critique of CJI’s actions not scandalous of the SC, says Prashant Bhushan
“Such expression of opinion however outspoken, disagreeable or however unpalatable cannot constitute contempt of court. It is the essence of a democracy that all institutions, including the judiciary function for the citizens and the people of this country, and they have every right to freely and fairly discuss the state of affairs of an institution and build public opinion in order to reform the institution”. Bhushan said.
He added, “To bona fide critique the actions of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) or a succession of CJIs, cannot and does not scandalise the court, nor does it lower the authority of the court”.
On July 22, the bench said that the petition filed by one Mehek Maheshwari seeking contempt action against Bhushan for his tweet on CJI was placed before it on the administrative side whether it should be listed for hearing or not as the petitioner had not obtained the permission of the Attorney General for India before filing the contempt petition.
Also Read: Prashant Bhushan’s tweets brought disrepute to the administration of justice, says SC in its prima facie opinion [Read Order]
After examining the matter on the administrative side, the court said, it directed the matter to be listed before the Court to pass appropriate orders.
During the hearing on July 22, Senior Advocate Sajan Poovayya who appeared for Twitter Inc. expressed willingness to disable the tweets under question if the court ordered it to do so.
(The story will be updated once the judgment is made available on the Court’s website)