NEW DELHI :
Citing “scheme and design”, the Supreme Court on Friday held advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for his two tweets criticizing the judiciary. The SC will decide the sentence on 20 August. The offence is punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine of up to ₹2,000 or both.
The order on the suo moto case was passed by a bench of justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari.
Two tweets brought Bhushan, a critic of the government and a lawyer known for taking up liberal causes, under fire from the court. The first was about a photograph showing Chief Justice S.A. Bobde sitting on a high-end Harley Davidson motorcycle; in the second, Bhushan gave his opinion on the role of the last four chief justices of India.
“No doubt, that it may be better in many cases for the judiciary to adopt a magnanimously charitable attitude even when utterly uncharitable and unfair criticism of its operations is made out of bona fide concern for improvement,” the court said in a 108-page judgment.
“However, when there appears some scheme and design to bring about results which have the tendency of damaging the confidence in our judicial system and demoralizing the judges of the highest court by making malicious attacks, those interested in maintaining high standards of fearless, impartial justice will have to stand firmly.”
“If such an attack is not dealt with, with requisite degree of firmness, it may affect the national honour and prestige in the comity of nations. Fearless and impartial courts of justice are the bulwark of a healthy democracy and the confidence in them cannot be permitted to be impaired by malicious attacks upon them,” it added.
The judgment said that “the foundation of the judiciary is the trust and the confidence of the people in its ability to deliver fearless and impartial justice. When the foundation itself is sought to be shaken by acts which tend to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of the court by creating distrust in its working, the edifice of the judicial system gets eroded.”
The top court observed that “Indian judiciary is considered by the citizens in the country with the highest esteem. The judiciary is considered as a last hope when a citizen fails to get justice anywhere. The Supreme Court is the epitome of the Indian judiciary. An attack on the Supreme Court does not only have the effect of tending an ordinary litigant of losing the confidence in the Supreme Court but also may tend to lose the confidence in the mind of other judges in the country in its highest court.”
The main contention by Bhushan for the first tweet was that it was made primarily to underline his anguish at the non-physical functioning of the SC for over three months, as a result of which the fundamental rights of citizens, such as those in detention, were not being addressed or taken up for redressal.
In a separate case, the top court on 10 August had refused to accept Bhushan’s “regret” and explanation for a 2009 magazine interview where Bhushan had spoken about judicial “corruption”. The SC decided to continue the contempt proceedings in the case and hear it at length. That hearing will start on 17 August.