By:- Rishi Saraf
|IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA||INHERENT JURISDICTION|
|CITATION||“SUO MOTU CONTEMPT PETITION (CRL.) NO.1 OF 2020”|
|JUDGMENT DATE||31 August, 2020|
|ISSUES||“CONTEMPT PROCEDDING GAINST PRASHANT BHUSHAN” 1. Whether prashant bhushan‘s tweet involved contempt of court charges? 2. Whether contempt of court law well–defined? 3. Do contempt of court case was really necessary for sc to look into in this uncertain pandemic situation? 4. Was there a need for contempt of court proceedings against Prashant Bhushan?|
|RELEVANT PROVISION INVOLVED||“Contempt of Court act, 1971” Section 2,3 & 12|
|JUDGES||Justice Arun Mishra, Justice B.R. Gawai and Justice Krishna Murari|
Contempt of the court could be a matter regarding the free and truthful administration of justice and aims to penalize any act that hurts the dignity and authority of judicial tribunals or courts. . As per black’s law dictionary, contempt is outlined as “a willful disregard of the authority of a court of justice or legislative body or disobedience to its lawful orders.” Contempt is done either by an individual or AN authority once such person or authority will any act in willful resistance of its authority or dignity or is tending to frustrate the administration of justice. The Constitution of India provides the fundamental rights of speech and expression however this right isn’t absolute in nature.
Some restrictions are unit obligatory and therefore no such acts are done or words are used, willfully, which tends to bring shame to the judicial authorities.
Since, the introduction of judiciary, judges area unit thought-about to be the representatives of truth and therefore area unit extremely revered and obeyed thus , the contempt is formed a punishable offense because it may shake and disrupt the inspiration of the judiciary that contains trust and confidence of the general public to deliver simple and fearless judgment. Contempt of Court act, 1971 was introduced to guard the thought of justice by punishing the contemnor. The present case is regarding the contempt case against Prashant Bhushan where he was found guilty of contempt for his two tweets. The present case analysis aims to scrutinize the background, facts, issues raised, and arguments on both sides and highlights concepts made in the case.
FACTS OF THE CASE
Prashant Bhushan, an advocate at Supreme Court previously involved in cases related to public concern in June 2020 tweeted against the Chief justice of India and judges which were alleged to be contempt of court. Thus, on 21 July 2020, advocate mahek maheswari filed a contempt petition against Prashant Bhushan but since the contempt petition lack sanction of the attorney general of India could not be accepted. Finally, on 22 July, supreme court itself took the sue moto cognizance of the alleged tweets and began a contempt case against Prashant Bhushan.
First tweet (June 22, 2020): “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!”
Second tweet (June 27, 2020): “When historians in the future look back in 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 case was heard by a three-judge bench and was presided by Justice Arun Mishra, Justice B.R. Gawai and Justice Krishna Murari. Dr. Rajeev Dhavan and Shri Dushyant Dave learned senior counsel appeared for the contemnor Shri Prashant Bhushan.
1. Whether prashant bhushan‘s tweet involved contempt of court charges?
2. Whether contempt of court law well–defined?
3. Do contempt of court case was really necessary for sc to look into in this uncertain pandemic situation?
4. Was there a need for contempt of court proceedings against Prashant Bhushan?
What is contempt of court?
Constitutional provisions: article 129 and 215 of the constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and high court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt. Article 142 of the Indian constitution also empowers the court to punish for its contempt. However what is contempt of court per se has not been defined by the Indian constitution.
Statutory provisions: the contempt of court act, 1971 elaborately deals with the concept of contempt of court. Section 10 of the contempt of courts act of 1971 defines the power of the high court to punish contempt of its subordinate court.
According to section 2 of the act, contempt can be of two types which are civil and criminal. Civil contempt: under section 2(b) of the contempt of courts act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court. Criminal contempt: under section 2(c) of the contempt of courts act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which: scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner the supreme court and high courts have the power to punish for contempt of court, either with simple imprisonment for a term up to six months or with fine up to 2,000 or with both.
ARGUMENTS FROM THE PETITIONER SIDE
Attorney General Arguments – He genuinely expressed that in light of a legitimate concern for the organization of equity, the contemnor should not to have made such proclamations. He further expressed that such articulations, which were additionally concerning different sitting and resigned judges of this Court, including the over a wide span of time Judges, was absolutely ridiculous, explicitly so when the resigned or sitting judges were not in a situation to protect themselves. He further presented that no decision could be passed without hearing such Appointed authorities, and accordingly, the cycle would be perpetual.
He presented that such a safeguard can’t be investigated. he spoke to the court that as opposed to rebuffing the contemnor, it ought to unselfishly caution him, to be cautious while offering any expression concerning the judges or the organization of justice of equity and he ought to be additionally cautioned not to rehash any such demonstration in the future. He expressed that separated from sending a correct message to the contemnor, it will likewise send a suitable message to all the individuals from the Bar just as all residents all through the country that one ought to be cautious and mindful while offering any expression as to the adjudicators or the foundation of organization of equity.
ARGUMENTS BY PRASHAN BHUSHAN UNIT I.E. RESPONDENT
It was argued that alleged contemnor Prashant Bhushan is a senior lawyer practicing since the 1990s and has brought certain corruption cases and causes to the court such as “V. Ramaswamy case, Coal Mining case, Goa Mining case, Orissa Mining case, an issue relating to the appointment of CVC, CBI Director’s case, Lok Pal case” etc. In the public interest, he has filed several petitions like “Narmada case, Bofors case, Police Reform case, Passive Euthanasia case, HPCL Privatization case, Street Vendors case, Rickshaw Pullers case, Singur Land Acquisition case, Draught Management, Gram Nyayalaya, and Electoral Bond cases”. The very jurisdiction of contempt is scandalizing and is vague and colonial. Several decisions have been relied upon where the Court has not even initiated contempt in such matters.
The counsel for the respondent contended that the initial tweet from Prashant Bhushan was created to specific his the anguish on the incongruousness between CJI’s reckless perspective in riding a bike while not sporting a mask whereas at constant time restraining the SC from functioning physically and hearing cases throughout the amount of imprisonment on account of COVID-19.
It was also submitted that the contempt proceedings were a shot to stifle free speech and offensive of basic rights beneath Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of Asian country. In the second tweet, Prashant Bhushan argued that The role of the Supreme Court and the last four Chief Justices was detailed in the reply affidavit and was argued that The guard of truth was not inspected at all in the indicting judgment and similar should be analyzed at the phase of condemning inconsistency with section 13(b) of the Demonstration and Reference was likewise made to the press conference on 12.01.2018 by the Sitting Adjudicators of this Court.
It was presented that while applying the Rule of Proportionality the equilibrium should shift for the rights as against limitations, in as much as the rights are major in nature. The assessments of the contemnor were true and without malevolence. Reference was additionally given to “Article 19(1)(a)” which ensures The right to speak freely and was contended that Arrangements in Articles 129 and 142(2) of the Constitution of India, can’t supersede Article 19(1)(a) and 19(2) of the Constitution of India There ought not to be an endeavor to constrain the contemnor into making a statement of regret on the premise that nothing else would be worthy Hence, the choice concerning the conviction is needed to be reviewed, and in such an occasion, no sentence can be forced.
The principal question before the Apex Court was whether or not the tweets published by Prashant Bhushan were entitled to protection beneath Article 19(1) of the Constitution as a ‘fair criticism’ of the system, created in straightness within the larger public interest or not and may truth as a defense is applicable during this case.
Given the multifold tests propounded by Justice V.R. Iyer, the Court then delved into associate degree analysis of the tweets. Remarkably, it compounds them into numerous segments, perceptive that the primary part of the first tweet (‘CJI rides a fifty large integer motorbike belonging to a BJP leader at raj Bhavan, Nagpur while not a mask or helmet’) was a private criticism against the CJI as a personal. However, the second part of the primary tweet (‘at a time once he keeps the SC in imprisonment mode denying voters their elementary rights to access justice’) was an ‘undisputed’ attack on CJI in his capability as body head of the judiciary.
The Court over that Prashant Bhushan’s initial tweet gave the the impression that the CJI because the head of the Indian judiciary had unbroken the Supreme Court in imprisonment mode, thereby denying voters their basic right to access justice. [p. 95] It is necessary to notice that the Court discovered various flaws with the factual accuracy of the primary tweet. Whereas physically non-functional, the Court was functioning through video conferencing tools and discharging their duties throughout the number of impugned tweets. provided that context, a ‘patently false’ and ‘wild allegation’ concerning the CJI had the tendency to shake the boldness of the general public within the establishment of the judiciary likewise as undermine the authority and administration of justice, in line with the Court.
As a result, the Court conjointly rejected Prashant Bhushan’s claim of actual criticism on account of his anguish of the physical non-functioning of the courts. On the 2nd tweet, the Court created 3 observations.
First, Prashant Bhushan’s comment that the Apex Court had compete for a considerable role in permitting the destruction of democracy and therefore the role of the past four CJIs in perpetuating it had been a right away criticism of the establishment of the Supreme Court and therefore the establishment of CJI.
Second, given the large extent of the reach of the tweet and therefore the character of the contemnor (who could be a professional person himself), the Court over that Prashant Bhushan behaved without showing responsibility and therefore, the tweets weren’t eligible permanently religion protection.
Third, it had been conjointly not a good criticism of the functioning of the judiciary created in actuality within the public interest, rendering it ineligible for defense beneath the Article 19(1) freedom of expression rule. Combined, the tweets had an impact of dissuading a normal party and risked losing confidence within the Supreme Court and CJI.
The Court conjointly believed that if it did not defend itself from malicious insinuations like this case, it’s going to open floodgates of comparable attacks on different judges. In effect, preventing malicious attacks was an issue of national honor and status within the concordance of states and needed to be managed with a degree of firmness.
The Supreme Court found Prashant Bhushan guilty of getting committed contempt of the Court.
After an assessment by the Court dated August fourteen, 2020 whereby the Court found Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt, Prashant Bhushan approached the Court to invalidate the proceedings on procedural grounds (claiming that a replica of the grievance on the premise of that the Suo Motu notice was issued wasn’t served on him). He conjointly contested the choice on different grounds: unclearness, free speech, truth (as a defense), the principle of proportion, but the Court had asked Prashant Bhushan to submit an unconditional apology, if he therefore desired but Prashant Bhushan refused, so the court continued the proceedings.
Finally, within the sentencing order dated August thirty-one, 2020, the Court adjudicated on a number of the aforesaid arguments. It declared that scandalizing the Supreme Court was associate degree abuse of freedom of speech. whereas honest criticism was a permissible defense, it had been subject to affordable restrictions beneath Article 19(2) on account of public interest.
Among different things, the Court noted that criticism of the judiciary wasn’t protected beneath Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and amounted to contempt. In cases once there was a conflict between freedom of expression and maintenance of respect for judicial independence; one couldn’t prevail over the opposite. Ultimately, the Court declared: “while it had been impossible to regulate the thinking method and words operative within the mind of 1 individual, once it came to expression, it’s to be inside the constitutional. Accordingly, Prashant Bhushan was sentenced with a nominal fine of federal agency rather than a severe penalization.
Why the court was repeatedly asked for an apology?
“The Contempt of Courts Act 1971 lays down the procedure to be followed in contempt cases. It also says that the offense is punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with a fine which may extend to Rs 2,000, or both”
However, Section 12 of the Act also adds an exception to the punishment prescribed. “Provided that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court,” the law says.
Hence, a statement of apology to the court by Bhushan would allow the court to let him off without punishment even though the Supreme Court has found him guilty of contempt of court
Critical Questions left Unanswered.
1. What type of precedent is set by SC?
2. Will sc now be looking at every social media account and have a serious approach to preserve its image and dignity?
3. Was rs 1 fine was justified?
In August, we were in the midst of the pandemic and in April only, the Supreme Court ordered to close down the physical hearing of the Court and decided to conduct important hearings only. There are approximate 3 crore cases pending in our country and the Court choose to take this case as sue motto? The question is not only over timing of the case but also whether from now onwards the Court will watch every tweet and punish people for its contempt?
The Contempt of Court act significance cannot be ignored but it is on the discretion of the Court to use this act wisely and maintain the faith of people on the judiciary. All criticisms of the court cannot be counted as contempt and in a modern democracy; all institutions should be ready to hear their criticism. If democracy is the car that India drives then judiciary is the fuel which makes it run.
- RituzChopra, ‘The Concept of Contempt of Court’ legal service India<http://www.legalserviceindia.com/article/l255-Contempt-of-Court.html> accessed 17 JUNE 2021
- Prashant bhushanhttps://twitter.com/?lang=en accessed 17 JUNE 2021 Contempt of Court Act 1971
AUTHOR – RISHI SARAF, 1ST YEAR STUDENT AT NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY ODISHA, BALLB HONS.