‘Views On Judiciary OK If Expressed In Respectful Manner’: Delhi High Court

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The Delhi High Court said on Tuesday a person is entitled to having his views on the Indian judiciary as long as they are bona fide and expressed in a respectful manner.
Justice Prateek Jalan, while hearing a plea by Abhijit Iyer Mitra seeking restoration of his Twitter account, took note of his “retweet” on the judiciary being “both biased and unaccountable”, and questioned if courts should do somersaults to grant equitable relief in favour of those holding such a view.

“You are entitled to have your views about our judiciary so long as they are bona fide and expressed in a manner that is respectful and not contumacious. You are entitled to those views but when you come to court for an equitable relief then I am also entitled to see that he who seeks equity, does equity,” the judge said.

“He is entitled to hold this view.. I am very comfortable with the notion that there will be people who think this of our judiciary. But I am wondering whether the judiciary should turn somersaults to grant equitable relief in favour of those persons,” he added.

Mitra moved the high court earlier this year, claiming after his tweet in relation to the bail granted by the Supreme Court to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair in a criminal case, Twitter “unilaterally” banned his twitter account thereby making it completely inaccessible for the former to engage with his 1.5 lac followers.

The counsel for Mitra on Tuesday said the retweet, which is not the subject matter of the lawsuit, might not be an endorsement and urged the court to hear his plea seeking interim relief of reinstatement of his account during the pendency of the lawsuit, “especially with the tension brewing at Tawang border”, which made it important for the plaintiff, a defence analyst, to air the “Indian point of view”.

The court, however, told Mitra that India was not a monolith and his view was not necessarily the “Indian point of view”.

“You are entitled to air your view but your view is not necessarily the Indian point of view. You can air your view but please don’t arrogate to yourself the responsibility of airing the Indian point of view… India is not a monolith. Lots of Indians have different views on lots of issues. Each one of them is entitled to air their views including you,” the court said.

Lawyer Raghav Awasthi, appearing for the plaintiff, also submitted the case pertained to the compliance of intermediary guidelines as well as protection of freedom of speech and expression of an Indian citizen and that the plaintiff may be held responsible only for his tweets and not retweets.

The court observed the plaintiff chose the retweet “in a universe of tweets”, and asked why he was before it if he held the views expressed in the retweet.

It also said the case pertained to the rule of law, integrity of judiciary, access of persons to justice and people’s faith in the judicial system. “This is not the first case of his that I am hearing…He seems to be a gentleman who does repose some faith in the judiciary of this country when it comes to asserting his own rights and claiming vindication of his own rights…Then what is the implication of retweeting a tweet of this nature and whether it has any consequence on his right to an equitable injunction in favour,” the court said.

Mitra’s lawyer said there was “some kind of animus” against him as he “happens to profess an ideology which might not be palatable” and a foreign company was given the power to interfere in “our political affairs”. He also stated that Twitter was yet to file any response to his plea and apologised to the court for the retweet. The counsel for Twitter said all pleadings will be filed in due course and that there was some delay on account of the change in the social media platform’s ownership. The lawyer said on a previous occasion it was indicated that the plaintiff’s account would be restored if the allegedly objectionable tweet is taken down. “I will file it by next month. Elon Musk has purchased twitter. There are some delays,” the lawyer said.

The court wondered if the company would seek an adjournment “every time your CEO changes”.

The court listed the case for further hearing on February 16 and asked Twitter to file its reply within four weeks.

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