280 character Tweets vs Credibility of the judiciary
Amid rising coronavirus cases and pending cases of electoral bonds, Article 370, Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the detention of various politicians and activists, The Supreme Court of India on 22nd July, 2020, initiated suo motu(on their own) Contempt of Court proceedings against Prashant Bhushan, senior advocate, for his tweets. The two tweets he shared criticized the incumbent and past CJIs (Chief Justice of India), and the current CJI, Sharad Bobde, who was photographed sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle owned by a BJP leader.
Contempt of Court can be broadly classified in two types:
1: Interfering in Justice
2: Scandalizing the Court
2.2, as shown above, has remained controversial because the court ‘can’ take the criticism of the judges, judgments, judiciary as the scandalization. Interestingly, former Union Minister Arun Shourie, veteran journalist N. Ram and Prashant Bhushan, challenged the constitutional validity of legal provision dealing with criminal contempt (2.2).
This petition was heard by a three-judge Bench headed ‘again’ by Justice Arun Mishra. Later, the plea was taken back as several petitions on the same issue were pending before the apex court.
On August 14, 2020, this very three-judge Bench headed by the controversial Justice Arun Mishra held Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt for his tweets against the judiciary, stating that “There is no matter of doubt that the tweet tends to shake the public confidence in the institution of judiciary”. Immediately, support poured in from across the country for Prashant Bhushan on social media.
Over 1500 lawyers from across the country including senior members of the Bar expressed “dismay” over the conviction of advocate Prashant Bhushan by The Supreme Court. 7 former SC judges along with 131 jurists and activists backed Bhushan and called on The SC to ‘maintain the dignity’ of the court and be open to public discussion. The Bar Association of India also openly supported Bhushan saying at a time that the citizenry is facing huge challenges, the stature of SC would stand enhanced by allowing criticism rather than taking umbrage at his remarks.
On 20th August, 2020, The Supreme Court gave time to Prashant Bhushan to reconsider his statement in the said case. But, he refused to apologize to SC stating that doing so will be ‘contempt of his conscience’. Finally, succumbing in pressure, The Supreme Court on August 31st, 2020, punished Prashant Bhushan with a “nominal” fine of Re 1 for committing criminal contempt by “scandalizing the court”. Prashant Bhushan paid the fine while reserving his right to seek a review of the conviction.
This incident poses 3 important, pertinent questions for all of us to consider:
Q1. Do you agree with everything that activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan says, believes or tweets?
Q2. Do you believe that he’s right with every case that he takes up in the court?
Q3. Is the Supreme Court right in issuing contempt notice to Prashant Bhushan for his 2 tweets that the judges have found offensive?
The answer for the first two questions may be YES for some and NO for others. Frankly, it’s irrelevant and doesn’t matter. But in order to preserve the moral authority and prevent the politicization of The Supreme Court, the answer for the third question has to be a BIG NO! Under no circumstance can‘2 tweets’ shake the foundations of law and imperil Indian democracy.
-Written by: Aman Verma