The Supreme Court held lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt; for tweets against the court, and Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde on 14.08.2020.
A three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari hearing the case rejected Bhushan’s explanation; that he was exercising his freedom of speech and gave his opinion on the public forum.
The Controversial Tweets
Bhushan posted two tweets, one on the Supreme Court on June 27, 2020; and the second one on CJI Bobde on June 29, 2020. The bench issued contempt notice to Bhushan in a suo moto case taken regarding his two tweets. The Apex Court served him show cause notice on July 22, 2020.
The first tweet, said: “When historians in the future look back at the last six years; to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency; they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction; and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs.”
The second tweet said: “The CJI rides a Rs 50-lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without wearing a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC on lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!”
The Supreme Court had on August 5 reserved its verdict in the matter after Bhushan defended his two tweets saying they were against the judges regarding their conduct in their personal capacity and they did not obstruct administration of justice.
Bhushan filed a detailed reply affidavit to the contempt notice, asserting that expression of bona fide opinion about the Court cannot amount to contempt. Regarding the tweet about the role of SC in the destruction of democracy and the role of last 4 CJIs in that, Bhushan stated that it was his “bonafide impression” about them. Moreover, it is his opinion that SC allowed the destruction of democracy. Therefore, such expression of opinion however “outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable” can’t constitute contempt.
Additionally, senior advocate Dushyant Dave representing Bhushan submitted that Bhushan’s criticism against the judiciary did not have any malice.
Tweet criticizing CJI Bobde
Bhushan claimed that his tweet on CJI Bobde for his photo; in which CJI was sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle was a result of his anguish at the non-physical functioning of the Supreme Court for over three months. “As a result of which fundamental rights of citizens, such as those in detention, those destitute and poor, and others; facing serious and urgent grievances were not being addressed or taken up for redressal”.
He stated in his affidavit that he only regretted saying CJI Bobde was not wearing a helmet. Further, he added that he failed to notice the bike was stationary and that the CJI was not riding but merely sitting on it.
Judgement of the Supreme Court
The three-judge bench, prima facie, held that his tweets “have brought disrepute to the administration of justice and are capable of undermining the dignity and authority of the Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of general public.”
The bench will hear him on sentence on August 20.
Another Contempt Petition
Another suo motu contempt petition is also pending before the same bench against Bhushan for calling past CJIs corrupt in a 2009 interview to Tehelka magazine. Bhushan had offered an explanation but the Supreme Court refused to accept it and ruled, on August 10, that it will hear the matter in detail.
In a statement in a previous hearing, Bhushan expressed regret: “What I said caused hurt to any of the them (CJIs) or to their families in any way, I regret. The word corruption was used in ‘wide sense meaning lack of propriety’,” he said. “I did not mean only financial corruption or deriving any pecuniary advantage.”
In fact, another person accused of contempt, senior journalist Tarun Tejpal; former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine, apologised for publishing the statement.
The next hearing of this case is on August 17.