The Supreme Court on Friday held noted activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court. This was for his ‘contemptuous and defamatory’ remarks against present CJI S A Bobde and past four CJIs through two controversial tweets on June 27 and 29, 2020 respectively. SC had taken suo motu cognizance of the tweets.
Pronouncing Bhushan guilty, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said quantum of sentence/punishment will be pronounced on August 20 after hearing of arguments in this regard.
While issuing contempt notice against Bhushan, Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had on July 22 noted – “We are, prima facie, of the view that the tweets have brought administration of justice into disrepute and are capable of undermining the dignity and authority of the Institution of Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of public at large.”
Referring to a photo dated June 29 of CJI Bobde sitting on a Hardley Davidson bike Prashant 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!”
As Bhushan’s tweet went viral, Chief Justice Bobde’s office was forced to issue a clarification that the CJI wanted to buy one of those Harley Davidson bikes after retirement and had asked a dealer in Nagpur, where he currently was, to show him one. The dealer sent him his bike and the CJI tried it out without taking a ride and also said he did not know to whom it belonged. Remember Bhushan had tweeted that it belonged to a BJP leader
The second tweet dated June 27 said – When historians in 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 Supreme court in this destruction and more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs.
When he was asked to explain his tweets, Bhushan refused to apologise and said he stood by his tweets and said if it is construed as contempt and proceedings continued, it would stifle free speech and would constitute an unreasonable restriction on Article 19 that is freedom of speech and expression. He said his only regret in the CJI and bike tweet was that he did not see that the bike was on a stand when he accused the CJI of riding a bike without a helmet.
The SC bench observed in its judgment:
“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.”
“The scurrilous/malicious attacks by the alleged contemnor (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.”
“The alleged contemnor has attempted to scandalise the entire institution of the Supreme Court. The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing of ‘criminal contempt”.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave while arguing for Bhushan urged the court to view the tweets in the right perspective and as a fair criticism aimed at the betterment of the judiciary. Dave had said, “If you look at the work Bhushan has done and the corruption he has exposed, if he was pro-establishment you would have given him Padma Vibhushan.”
During the past several years Bhushan was off and on being pulled up by various judges during court hearings for his social media posts, comments making contemptuous remarks and casting aspersion on judges when the rule –‘You can criticize a judgment but not a judge’ but this is the first time that he was found guilty. There is another contempt proceeding already going on against Bhushan before the same bench of Justice Arun Mishra for his 2009 interview to Tehelka wherein he had said half of the past 16 CJIs are corrupt. SC is examining whether allegation of corruption against judiciary without proof would amount to contempt and pronounce the judgment within the next 15 days.”
On April 27 Supreme Court while hearing a PIL filed by Bhushan on migrants issue had pulled him up for “regularly insulting” and “casting aspersion” on its judges and the institution of judiciary “whenever” he “failed to get any relief”.
The bench was referring to one of his tweets which said- “I have watched the Supreme Court since Emergency. The kind of abject surrender to the government that we are seeing today was not seen even during the emergency. Most judges have totally forgotten their oath to protect the constitution and fundamental rights of people. Pathetic”
This tweet of Bhushan had come two days after SC refused to pass any order on plea filed by Harsh Mander (argued by Bhushan) for payment of wages to migrant workers during the Covid19 lockdown need for providing access to basic necessities, food and shelter to migrant workers. Court had held that it was satisfied by the work and steps undertaken by the government and nothing required to be done at that juncture.
Reacting strongly to the tweet, Justice S K Kaul had noted: “Every time there is an order in which you do not get any relief, you insult the institution…you cast aspersions on the judges …you don’t have any respect for constitutional bodies. You don’t have any faith in the judiciary.”
Bhushan had replied: “I was not being disrespectful in any manner. But Government’s views are being blindly accepted. I am only expressing my anguish. I feel government’s assertions are being believed without verification. The court is accepting whatever the government is stating without verifying.”
When the Medical admission scam broke in which names of several judges had come up, Bhushan had in Nov 2017 dropped a bombshell telling CJI Misra in open court that “FIR is lodged directly against you”.
The CJI Misra then retorted: “What nonsense! There’s not a word in FIR naming me or anyone else. You are now liable for contempt”. But no contempt action was initiated.
Read Judgement Here: