SC holds advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court

Public confidence in courts can’t be allowed to be impaired by malicious attacks on them, says top court

SC holds advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court

Prashant Bhushan. File photo

Satya Prakash
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, August 14

The Supreme Court on Friday held activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for his tweets against Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and four last CJIs, saying, “Such an attack which tends to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of this court cannot be ignored.”

A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said, “The scurrilous/malicious attacks by the alleged contemnor No.1 (Bhushan) are not only against one or two judges but the entire Supreme Court in its functioning of the last six years. Such an attack which tends to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of this court cannot be ignored.”

It said, “If an attack is made to shake the confidence that the public at large has in the institution of judiciary, such an attack has to be dealt with firmly…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.”

The Bench – which also included Justice BR Gavai and Justice Krishna Murari—will hear arguments on sentence on August 20.

The maximum sentence prescribed under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 is six-month imprisonment with a fine of Rs 2,000.

Last week, the Bench had decided to go ahead with contempt proceedings against the activist-lawyer in an 11-year-old contempt case in which he had expressed regret but refused to apologise.

Describing “fearless and impartial courts of justice” as the bulwark of a healthy democracy”, the top court said, “the confidence in them cannot be permitted to be impaired by malicious attacks upon them”.

Recently Bhushan had tweeted, “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!”

In another tweet, he had on June  27, said, “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.”

The top court had on July 22 taken strong exception to both the tweets and initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against Bhushan and Twitter Inc.

However, it let off Twitter as it was only an intermediary which didn’t have any control on what the users posted on the platform and it also showed its bona fides by immediately suspending Bhushan’s both controversial tweets.

On behalf of Bhushan, senior counsel Dushyant Dave had argued that no institution should be free from public criticism.

“Mr Bhushan’s contribution to development of the PIL jurisprudence is immense. He criticises the court because of love and affection for the institution. He did not impute any motives.

“The foundation of the judiciary is the trust and the confidence of the people in its ability to deliver fearless and impartial justice. When the foundation itself is sought to be shaken by acts which tend to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of the court by creating distrust in its working, the edifice of the judicial system gets eroded,” it said.

It may be better in many cases for the judiciary to adopt a magnanimously charitable attitude when utterly uncharitable and unfair criticism made out of bona fide concern for improvement, it noted.

“However, when there appears some scheme and design to bring about results which have the tendency of damaging the confidence in our judicial system and demoralize the Judges of the highest court by making malicious attacks, those interested in maintaining high standards of fearless, impartial and unbending justice will have to stand firmly,” the top court said.

 

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