Law

Read: What the Supreme Court Said While Holding Prashant Bhushan in Contempt

Bhushan's 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", the bench found.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday held advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan in contempt of court for two recent tweets. While reading out the order, Justice B.R. Gavai said that Bhushan committed “serious contempt of the court”.

The tweets in question were critical of the top court and posted by Bhushan on Twitter on June 27 and June 29. The June 27 tweet said, “When historians in future look back at the last 6 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.”

The June 29 tweet included a photo of CJI S.A. Bobde riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and said, “CJI rides a 50 lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access Justice!”

The bench comprised Justices Arun Mishra, Gavai and Krishna Murari. Here, The Wire bring you some of the highlights of the 108-page judgment on the matter.

‘False, malicious and scandalous’

The judges have said that Bhushan made a “wild allegation” in the second tweet in question, by insinuating that the CJI was enjoying joy rides on a motorcycle while the Supreme Court was in lockdown.

“The said tweet is capable of giving an impression to a layman, that the CJI is enjoying his ride on a motorbike worth Rs.50 lakh belonging to a BJP leader, at a time when he has kept the Supreme Court in lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice,” the judgment says.

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“In this premise, making such wild allegation 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 has the tendency to shake the confidence of the public at large in the institution of judiciary and the institution of the CJI and undermining the dignity and authority of the administration of justice,” it continues.

Though Bhushan’s tweets did not say that the court was closed completely, the bench believes that is the message it conveyed. “He has made such a scandalous and malicious statement having himself availed the right of an access to justice during the said period, not only as a lawyer but also as a litigant,” the judgment says.

‘Directly affronts the majesty of law’

On the July 27 tweet, the court said it was not going to comment on the first part (whether democracy was being destroyed) but took umbrage at Bhushan linking the Supreme Court to an Emergency-like situation.

“The impression which the said tweet tends to give to an ordinary citizen is, that when the historians in future look back, the impression they will get is, that in the last six years the democracy has been destroyed in India without even a formal emergency and that the Supreme Court had a particular role in the said destruction and the last four Chief Justices of India had more particular role in the said destruction,” the judgment reads.

“An attempt to shake the very foundation of constitutional democracy has to be dealt with an iron hand. The tweet has the effect of destabilising the very foundation of this important pillar of the Indian democracy. The tweet clearly tends to give an impression, that the Supreme Court, which is a highest constitutional court in the country, has in the last six years played a vital role in destruction of the Indian democracy. There is no manner of doubt, that the tweet tends to shake the public confidence in the institution of judiciary.”

“We do not want to go into the truthfulness or otherwise of the first part of the tweet, inasmuch as we do not want to convert this proceeding into a platform for political debate. We are only concerned with the damage that is sought to be done to the institution of administration of justice. 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.”

‘Magnanimity cannot be stretched’

Bhushan’s words, the bench believes, do not come under criticism that should be met with magnanimity.

“No doubt, that the Court is required to be magnanimous, when criticism is made of the judges or of the institution of administration of justice. However, such magnanimity cannot be stretched to such an extent, which may amount to weakness in dealing with a malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack on the very foundation of the institution of the judiciary and thereby damaging the very foundation of the democracy,” the judgment reads.

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“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. 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 demoralize the Judges of the highest court by making malicious attacks, those interested in maintaining high standards of fearless, impartial and unbending 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 continues.

Read the full judgment below.

Supreme Court judgment on Prashant Bhushan’s tweets by The Wire on Scribd