File image of Prashant Bhushan | Commons
File image of Prashant Bhushan | Commons
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New Delhi: Not dealing firmly with malicious attacks against the judiciary “may affect the national honour and prestige in the comity of nations”, the Supreme Court said Friday as it held advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his tweets. 

A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari said Bhushan’s tweets were based on “distorted facts”, adding that his allegations were “undoubtedly false, malicious and scandalous”.

The Supreme Court had last month initiated contempt proceedings against Bhushan over a couple of tweets where he sought to raise questions about the conduct of Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde, and some of his predecessors. 

Holding him guilty of contempt Friday, the court cited Bhushan’s three-decade career as a lawyer and the medium used — Twitter, which took his remarks instantly “to millions” — to justify its verdict. 

The court noted that Bhushan is a veteran lawyer with 30 years’ experience in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court, and said such tweets “are not expected” from a lawyer of his standing. 

Bhushan, the bench said, is “expected to act as a responsible officer of the court”. “The alleged contemnor being part of the institution of administration of justice, instead of protecting the majesty of law, has indulged into an act, which tends to bring disrepute to the institution of administration of justice,” it added.

It also considered the fact that the remarks were made through a tweet. “The publication by tweet reaches millions of people and as such, such a huge extent of publication would also be one of the factors that requires to be taken into consideration while considering the question of good faith.”


Also Read: Why contempt case against Prashant Bhushan in Supreme Court could set a bad precedent


‘False, malicious, scandalous’

The first tweet in question referred to a viral photograph from late June that showed CJI S.A. Bobde astride a parked motorcycle.

The court said the first part of the tweet, about CJI Bobde riding a bike “without a mask or a helmet… could be said to be a criticism made against the CJI as an individual and not against the CJI as CJI”.

The court, however, highlighted the second part of the tweet, where Bhushan noted that the photo came “at a time when he keeps the SC in lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental rights to access justice”.

This, the court said, was a criticism of the CJI in his capacity as the Chief Justice of India. 

The court then pointed out that, during the lockdown, it conducted a total of 879 sittings and heard over 12,700 matters. The claim that the CJI kept the Supreme Court in “lockdown mode” is thus “patently false”, it added. 

It also pointed out that Bhushan himself had appeared for several matters through video conferencing. 

“In this premise, making such wild allegations thereby giving an impression, that the CJI is enjoying riding an expensive bike, while he keeps the SC in lockdown mode and thereby denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice, is undoubtedly false, malicious and scandalous,” it said.

Tweet ‘undermines dignity and authority’ of court

The second tweet sought to allege that the Supreme Court and the “last four chief justices” had played a “substantial role” in “destroying” democracy in India.

As it dwelt on the tweet, the court said it was in “three distinct parts”. “According to him (Bhushan), the first part of the tweet contains his considered opinion, that democracy has been substantially destroyed in India during the last six years. The second part is his opinion that the Supreme Court has played a substantial role in allowing the destruction of democracy, and the third part is his opinion regarding the role of the last four Chief Justices in particular in allowing it.”

According to the court, the tweet criticised the “institution of the Supreme Court and the institution of the Chief Justice of India”.

“In our considered view, the said tweet undermines the dignity and authority of the institution of the Supreme Court of India and the CJI and directly affronts the majesty of law,” it said.


Also Read: Photos of Justice Bobde astride a hunky Harley Davidson reveal different side to India’s CJI


Twitter discharged

The court had also initiated contempt proceedings against Twitter, but the social media giant said in its submission that it is merely an intermediary, and not the author or originator of the tweets.

Twitter also told the court that it had blocked access to the two tweets and disabled them after the initiation of contempt proceedings.

Taking note of this, the bench discharged Twitter, observing, “It has also showed bona fides immediately after the cognisance was taken by this court as it has suspended both the tweets. We, therefore, discharge the notice issued to the alleged contemnor No.2 (Twitter Inc).”

‘Free speech now needs to be restricted’

Commenting on the sort of precedent this judgment sets, senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan told ThePrint, “The judgment suggests that free speech, which has been exercised thus far, needs to be bound and restricted. And one has to be very careful about mentioning judges’ names or their activities.

“This particular judgment suggests that the judge and the court are the same thing. And, therefore, a statement about one person, whether factual or not, is treated as contempt of court,” he added. 

Senior advocate K.T.S. Tulsi said the Supreme Court “should not be afraid of criticism”.

“Criticism is twice blessed. It blesses the one who criticises and also blesses the one who is criticised. That’s the only way institutions can grow,” he added.

“The Supreme Court is a public institution and each of them (the judges) are open to criticism… So these kinds of things should not become the subject matter of contempt,” he added.


Also Read: Tweets were against personal conduct of judges & not judiciary, Prashant Bhushan tells SC


 

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19 Comments Share Your Views

19 COMMENTS

  1. Criticism is part of life. It makes the person or body criticised re-evaluate his/its own action under criticism. That provides an opportunity for correction. Hence the cricism should not be curbed nor should one who criticises be punished. There should be tolerance towards criticism. It should be viewed positively. That helps growth. Particularly a great institution like Supreme Court is expected to be magnanimous.

  2. It’s good that court has found Prashant Bhushan guilty . It has become almost a fashion among some quarters to attack the foundation of Indian democracy by undermining Judiciary, election commission, parliament, by insinuation. Prashant Bhushan and some of his cohorts like Indira Jaisingh, Vrinda Grover, Anand , etc have been constantly spreading falsehood .

  3. Sad day for India’s freedom and this ‘Independence day’. It is sad that some people think that only what they say and think is right and every body else’s freedom should be restricted. I guess if enough people in this country is not outraged by the cowardly decision of the SC then it is only a matter of time before we become like Hitlers Germany. I am The Print is not outraged!

  4. This had to happen one day or the other. It’s fair that it has happened to a leading advocate like Prashant Bhushan who had almost crossed all civilities in his criticisms, be it against the Govt. of the day or the Supreme Court.
    The message should go out loud and clear that your freedom expression is not an unbridled absolute freedom to pull down anybody anytime.

  5. Thanks a lot for giving details of SC judgement which exposes Prashant Bhushan & Co. While some wise men are preaching that SC is not infalliable but believe Prashant Bhushant is , never wrong !
    ThePrint stands out in cutting out the cunningness from BOTH extreme spectrums of Indian thinkers

  6. Yes Hon SC is right some individuals n groups are taking undue advantage of freedom n liberty and think can do anything under garb of freedom but at same time cant take criticism. Freedom is being misused andvtheirvis no discipline and manner for conduct….thieves are roaming free and victim is questioned

  7. This judgement itself shoes that the SC judges cannot take fair criticism. And that freedom of speech is silenced. Prashant Bhushan has been proved to be right

  8. theprint,in my opinion is‌ following worst kind of partial journalism and boot licker of arrogant lawyers! Shamekess?

  9. A judgment can be analyzed and criticized by bringing out the technical faults in judgment, but criticizing the institution to be corrput in black and white without any substantial proof of same or by pointing out the personal activities of judge just because many judgment went againsy your opinion is indeed contempt.

  10. Majesty, honour, contempt, honourable. Which world are you living in. There was a time in this nation when judiciary held itself very high. Chose where to appear in public places. Avoided public glare. Few or very few hearsays of favouritism, corruption.
    Days are gone now. Post retirement plum postings as governor,mp lure you guys. Why play ignorance when just across you have a retired cji sitting in parliament. We all will buy your arguments that it was not a return of favour for the historic judgement he pronounced. Also the guv. We will again buy your defence that it was also a very fair posting. But aren’t the incidents too many to play ignorant.
    Accept this you judges. You many among you have fallen from grace. You guys are no more sacred. What Bhushan did reflects the days we are in. Beshamed.

  11. Is there a difference between bona fide critisism and wild baseless allegations or not? If he has made claims which are not based on facts he needs to account for them. How can you report only one sided defence of this convict?

  12. Unbridled freedom is suicidal for democracy. Self restraint is the best solution. Transparent and evidence based arguments enhance honour and bring credibility and adds to belief.

  13. I am a 75 year old citizen of this holy land. But I am sincerely aghast at the level of intolerance exhibited by the judiciary as well as some journalists who are baying for the blood of any dissenter, be it Prashant Bhushan, Medha Patkar, Arunthathi Roy to name only a few well – meaning dissenters. Like Noam Chomsky , the most vocal dissenting voice of reason of this & the previous centuries , these voices were & are raised for the defence of the voiceless multitudes who have been refused consistently an ear to pour in their grivances. How can anyone expect me , as an honest senior citizen, to respect an institution that had adamantly refused to go to the aid of lacs of migrant workers when their cry for help & mercy had gone deliberately unnoticed & unanswered? I sincerely prayed for a V.R. Krishna Iyer & a Justice Khanna who were always at the forefront supporting the just causes of the have- nots.

    • Sir, Have you read the judgement the case was related to ram jhanmaboomi original litigation. it was not judgement on the criminal case of the mosque destruction. Reading the judgment is more important than reading medias explanation of judgement

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