Supreme Court found Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court in his tweets. He did the first tweet against the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and in the second tweet, he claimed that the Supreme court has played a major role in the destruction of democracy in the last 6 years.
Although the Supreme Court did not found his facts credible.
“The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing of criminal contempt’,” said the Supreme Court bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari.
The first tweet of Prashant Bhushan said, “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!”
Here the controversy began, As the Supreme Court interpreted the whole text in two parts.
The bench said that the first part of the tweet wasn’t contemptuous as it is a healthy criticism against an individual . The second part is offensive as it points against the capacity of a judge.
“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 undermines the dignity and authority of the administration of justice”, the bench concluded.
The maximum sentence under the contempt law is six months or fine up to Rs 2,000 or both.
The apex court also added that the tweet is based on the ‘distorted facts’.The physical hearings in the court are restricted.
This is done keeping the pandemic in mind and to control it’s spread. The virtual hearings were continued and Prashant Bhushan himself was part of many of those. A total of 12,748 cases have been heard by the court. On restricted platform by video conferencing.
Though Freedom of Speech is a fundamental right guaranteed to every Indian citizen under article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.The Supreme Court held that the existing law of criminal contempt is one such reasonable restriction. That does not mean that one cannot express one’s ire against the judiciary for fear of contempt.
The second tweet was noticed by the Supreme Court on the day of the first hearing in the case.
The Second tweet says, “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 tweet has the effect of destabilizing the very foundation of this important pillar of the Indian democracy. 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.” said Supreme Court in Prashant Bhushan Contempt Case.
Prashant Bhushan in his defense said that these were the well-intentioned critique and did not amount to scandalize the court.
Bhushan’s lawyer Dushyant Dave stated in the argument
“A judge sits on a Saturday in his own case regarding sexual harassment. He hears cases such as Rafale, Ayodhya and CBI director cases . Subsequently gets a seat in the Rajya Sabha with Z-plus category security. What impression does it give? These are serious issues that strike at the core of the judiciary.”
The Supreme Court however considered the facts and his 30 years experience in mind . But said that Bhushan should act responsibly.
“The scurrilous allegations, which are malicious in nature and have the tendency to scandalise the court are not expected from a person, who is a lawyer of 30 years standing.”Supreme court on Prashant Bhushan.
Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh also didn’t seem satisfied with Court’s decision.
“I’m surprised, indeed severely disappointed, that the Supreme Court decided to go ahead with a suo motu contempt case and convict Prashant Bhushan,” Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh said.
Although this isn’t the first contempt case on Prashant Bhushan. The Supreme Court is also hearing a 2009 contempt case. It was initiated against Bhushan over his comments made to the Tehelka magazine.
To conclude, The Supreme Court bench here is trying to give a message .That is, any kind of criticism would not be tolerated. As a single comment or criticism can not shake the Indian judiciary, The roots here are not that weak.