Tweets Do Not Amount To Contempt of Court, Says Prashant Bhushan
Advocate Prashant Bhushan said his tweets, which are a subject of contempt proceedings in the Supreme Court, were his exercise of freedom of speech and do not amount to scandalising the court.
"There are moments in history when higher principles must trump routine obligations, when saving the Constitutional order must come before personal and professional niceties, when considerations of the present must not come in the way for discharging our responsibility towards the future. My tweets are nothing but a small attempt to discharge this duty at the present juncture in the history of our republic," Bhushan said in a reply to the notice in contempt case.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had issued a notice to Bhushan and Twitter Inc. after suo motu listing a petition which had brought the attention of the court to a tweet by Bhushan on the Chief Justice of India. The tweet was posted in June tagging an image of the Chief Justice of India Justice SA Bobde sitting astride a Harley-Davidson bike.
‘’CJI rides a 50 lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan Nagpur, without a mask or a helmet at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!’’ the tweet said.
Bhushan expressed his regret on a part of the tweet where he highlighted that the Chief Justice was not wearing a helmet. He said he did not notice that the bike was on stand.
Bhushan said in his reply that the tweet was made to express his anguish at the non-physical functioning of the Supreme Court for more than three months.
The top court has restricted its functioning in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic and has been hearing lesser than usual number of cases over videoconference facility.
During the hearing on July 22, the top court also took notice of another tweet by Bhushan regarding its last four Chief Justices.
Bhushan in his reply said his tweet had three distinct points which included his belief that democracy has been substantially destroyed in India and that the Supreme Court has played a substantial role in allowing it and his opinion on the role of the last four Chief Justices in particular in allowing it.
"When historians in future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs,’’ Bhushan's tweet said.
Twitter has disabled the tweets by Bhushan after the top court issued notice in the case. Bhushan said his tweet in this case was an expression of his bonafide opinion about the state of affairs in the country in the past six years and the role of the Supreme Court and in particular the role of the last four Chief Justices.
"Such expression of opinion however outspoken, disagreeable or however unpalatable cannot constitute contempt of court,’’ said the reply filed by Bhushan. "I submit that my criticism has been outspoken yet it has been carefully weighed and made with the highest sense of responsibility.’’
The top court in its order of July 22 has prima facie expressed its view that Bhushan’s statements on Twitter have brought disrepute to the administration of justice and are capable of undermining the dignity and authority of the institution of Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of public at large.
Bhushan said the court cannot be equated with the Chief Justice of India and a bona fide critique of the actions of a Chief Justice, or a succession of Chief Justices, cannot and does not scandalise the court, nor does it lower the authority of the court.
”To assume or suggest that the ‘CJI is the SC, and the SC is the CJI' is to undermine the institution of the Supreme Court of India,’’ said Bhushan.
The Supreme Court will take up the case for hearing on Wednesday.