Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Expression of opinion or anguish is not contempt amounting to scandalising the court: Prashant Bhushan tells SC

Topics Covered: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.

Expression of opinion or anguish is not contempt amounting to scandalising the court: Prashant Bhushan tells SC:

Context:

Noted civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan has responded to suo motu contempt action initiated against him on his tweets.

What’s the issue?

Mr Bhushan had made two tweets- one concerning a photograph of Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde on a motorcycle and the other about the functioning of the Supreme Court in the past six years under four Chief Justices.

  • Following this, the Court issued the contempt notice on July 22, saying the tweets undermined the dignity and authority of the court and the office of the CJI.

What has Pradhan Bhushan said? How he defends himself?

  1. Expressing opinion or bona fide anguish, however outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable, cannot constitute contempt amounting to scandalising the court.
  2. Chief Justice is not the court, and raising issues of concern regarding the manner in which a CJI conducts himself during ‘court vacations’ does not amount to ‘scandalising or lowering the authority of the court.
  3. Also, raising issues of grave concern regarding the manner in which four CJIs have used, or failed to use, their powers as ‘Master of the Roster’ to allow the spread of authoritarianism, majoritarianism, stifling of dissent, widespread political incarceration, and so on, cannot and does not amount to ‘scandalising or lowering the authority of the court.

Previously, What has the Supreme Court said in such matters?

Supreme Court in the contempt case against former Madras High Court judge C.S. Karnan had held that the “law of contempt is not made for the protection of judges who may be sensitive to the winds of public opinion. Judges are supposed to be men of fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate”.

How the Court should exercise its contempt powers?

  1. Freedom of speech and expression is the “ultimate guardian” of values upheld in the Constitution. Therefore, the exercise of contempt powers by the Supreme Court must necessarily not be of a nature that went beyond ‘reasonable restrictions’.
  2. The power of contempt under Article 129 is to be utilised to aid in administration of justice.
  3. Contempt could not be pressed into service to stifle bona fide criticism from citizens who were well-informed about the omissions and commissions of the Supreme Court.

Conclusion:

The citizens in a democracy has every right to freely and fairly discuss the state of affairs of an institution and build public opinion in order to reform the institution.

However, every criticism must be carefully weighed and made with the highest sense of responsibility.

Note: A detailed article has already been covered in this regard:

https://www.insightsonindia.com/2020/07/27/contempt-of-court-4/.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Article 129 is related to?
  2. Powers of SC vs HCs wrt Contempt cases.
  3. Changes brought about by Contempt of Courts (Amendment) Act, 2006.
  4. Civil vs Criminal contempt.
  5. Rights under Article 19.
  6. Section 10 of The Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 is related to?

Mains Link:

Discuss how contempt cases are handled by Supreme Court in India.

Sources: the Hindu.