New Delhi: Senior Supreme Court registry officials are in the dock for listing a petition filed jointly by advocate Prashant Bhushan, senior journalist N. Ram and former union minister Arun Shourie challenging the Constitutional validity of the Contempt of Courts Act, before a different bench and not the one that is already hearing contempt cases against Bhushan.
A senior officer from the top court’s administrative wing told ThePrint that a serious view has been taken of the “wrongful listing” of the matter and an explanation has been sought from the officials.
SC secretary general S. Kalgaonkar sought a report from the officials concerned, the officer added.
According to another officer in the administrative wing, the petition has been listed for hearing on 10 August before a bench of justices D.Y. Chandrachud and K.M. Joseph, while it should have been listed before a bench led by Justice Arun Mishra, who recently reserved its verdict in one of the two contempt cases against Bhushan.
The officer said the matter is likely to be deleted from Justice Chandrachud’s work list.
Ram, Shourie and Bhushan had last week challenged the validity of section 2(c)(i) of Contempt of Courts Act, which criminalises publication of any matter that could scandalise or lower the authority of courts.
This provision, they contended, violated freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Constitution and effectively gagged discourse on matters of public importance.
“It is unconstitutional as it is incompatible with the preambular values and basic features of the Constitution,” the plea had said.
Procedures were ‘flouted’ in listing the petition
Both the officers quoted above told ThePrint that rules and procedures outlined for listing cases were flouted in this matter, which necessitated an explanation from the officials.
“As per practice and procedure in use, the said matter should have been listed before the bench, which is already seized with similar matters, but it has been listed ignoring established practice and procedure. In this regard, explanations of the officials concerned have been sought,” the first officer said.
The petition by Bhushan, Ram and Shourie was filed on 1 August, soon after a bench led by Justice Mishra took suo motu cognisance of criminal contempt against Bhushan for two tweets of his against incumbent Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde as well as former CJIs. The top court reserved its verdict in the case on 5 August.
The same bench had also revived a 10-year-old contempt case against Bhushan for an interview he gave to Tehelka magazine where he had allegedly made serious imputation against then CJI, S.H. Kapadia, by stating that the top judge had heard a matter involving Sterlite company despite holding shares in it. In the same interview, Bhushan had claimed that half of India’s last 16 CJIs were corrupt.
In this case, in-camera proceedings were held on 4 August.
Advocate Sunil Fernandes, who is an advocate-on-record in the top court — counsels without whose authorisation cases cannot be filed in the Supreme Court — said unless a fresh case is not linked to a pending matter in the top court, it can be listed before a new bench.
In this case, he said, the writ petition against the Contempt of Courts Act, has no connection with the cases against Bhushan, except that he is one of the petitioners in the new one.
“Through this fresh petition, Bhushan is not seeking relief in the existing cases against him. Therefore, this matter can go to any bench that is authorised under the rules to hear writ petitions filed under Article 32,” he said.
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