Supreme Court finds Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for tweets against judiciary; quantum of punishment hearing on 20 August

Justice BR Gavai, reading out the judgment, said Bhushan had committed 'serious contempt of the court'.

FP Staff August 15, 2020 08:56:34 IST
Supreme Court finds Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for tweets against judiciary; quantum of punishment hearing on 20 August

The Supreme Court on Friday found senior advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty in the suo motu contempt case for his tweets against the Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the apex court, according to several media reports.

A bench of justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari rendered the verdict around 11 am.

Justice BR Gavai, reading out the judgment, said Bhushan had committed "serious contempt of the court", as per Live Law.

The hearing on the quantum of punishment will be held on 20 August, as per Bar and Bench.

A contemnor can be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both.

The apex court had on 5 August reserved its verdict in the matter after Bhushan had defended his tweets, saying they were against the judges regarding their conduct in their personal capacity and they did not obstruct administration of justice.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for Bhushan in the matter, had said, “The two tweets were not against the institution”.

Bhushan has made immense contribution to the development of jurisprudence and there are “at least 50 judgments to his credit”, Dave had said, adding that the court has appreciated his contributions in cases like 2G scam, coal block allocation and in mining matters.

Referring to the ADM Jabalpur case on suspension of fundamental rights during the Emergency, the senior advocate had said that even “extremely uncharitable” remarks against the judges were made and no contempt proceedings were made out.

In a 142-page reply affidavit filed in the matter, Bhushan had stood by his two tweets and had said the expression of opinion, “however outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable to some”, cannot constitute contempt of court.

Bhushan, in the affidavit, has referred to several apex court judgements, speeches of former and serving judges on contempt of court and the “stifling of dissent” in a democracy and his views on judicial actions in some cases.

Preventing citizens from demanding accountability and reforms and advocating for the same by generating public opinion is not a ''reasonable restriction'', the affidavit had said, adding that the Article 129 cannot be pressed into service to stifle bonafide criticism.

The contempt proceedings were started against Bhushan last month after the senior lawyer had put out a tweet critical of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the apex court.

He 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! (sic)"

The tweet was removed by Twitter "in response to a legal demand."

The court had noted that Bhushan's tweet "brought administration of justice into disrepute" and were "capable of undermining the dignity and authority of SC and office of CJI".

According to news agency PTI, the bench headed by Justice Mishra also observed that initially the contempt issue was placed before the administrative side of the apex court but it was directed to be listed on the judicial side.

Earlier on Thursday the court had allowed former Union minister Arun Shourie, veteran journalist N Ram and Bhushan to withdraw their plea challenging the constitutional validity of a legal provision dealing with criminal contempt for "scandalizing the court".

The three had moved court on 1 August in wake of the contempt case against Bhushan.

Their petition had challenged the validity of Section 2(1)(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 as being unconstitutional and incompatible with the basic features of the Constitution and is vague and manifestly arbitrary.

The provision defines what constituted criminal contempt and said that if by way of publication of words, the dignity of the courts is lowered and if they scandalize the courts then the offence of contempt of court is deemed to have been committed.

The petition alleged that the provision violated the freedom of speech and expression. The provision violates the right to free speech to the extent that it is not covered under the reasonable restrictions enlisted under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, it said.

The offence of 'scandalising the court' cannot be considered to be covered under the category of the contempt of court and under Article 19(2) of the Constitution which permitted reasonable restrictions on free speech, it said.

Supreme Court finds Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for tweets against judiciary quantum of punishment hearing on 20 August

However, on Thursday, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who was representing the petitioners informed the bench that they want to withdraw the plea as several petitions on the same issue are pending before the apex court and they don't want "this to be entangled" with them.

The bench allowed the petition to be withdrawn with liberty to the petitioners to approach the appropriate judicial forum, except the apex court.

During the brief hearing conducted through video-conferencing, Dhavan said that at this stage the petitioners want to withdraw the plea with liberty to approach the top court again, maybe after two months.

The petitioners had challenged the constitutional validity of a legal provision dealing with criminal contempt, saying it was violative of freedom of speech and right to equality.

With inputs from PTI

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