Supreme Court: In the 2009 contempt petition against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Tehelka Tarun Tejpal, the bench headed by Arun Mishra, J said that there is a thin line between freedom of speech and the need to protect the dignity of the judiciary as an institution and it sought to balance both. The hearing in the 11-year-old case which pertains to an interview given by Bhushan to Tehelka where he said that half of past 16 Chief Justices of India (CJIs) were corrupt, was conducted in-camera.

On July 22, 2020, a 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, JJ had issued notice in the suo motu contempt petition initiated by the Supreme Court against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Twitter. The Court will hear that matter tomorrow. The Court, in it’s order, recorded:

“We are, prima facie, of the view that the aforesaid statements on Twitter have brought the administration of justice in disrepute 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.”

The matter deals with certain tweets made by Bhushan. He had recently criticised the Supreme Court and the sitting and former CJIs in a couple of tweets which prompted the Supreme Court to initiate suo motu contempt petition against him. Here are the tweets:

In his reply to the suo motu petition, Bhushan said that

“The expression of opinion, however outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable to some, cannot constitute contempt of court…”

According to PTI, in a 142-page reply affidavit filed through lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, the activist lawyer has referred to several Supreme Court judgments, speeches of former and
serving judges on contempt of court and the stifling of dissent in a democracy and his views on judicial actions in some cases. He has also stood by his two tweets.’

“To prevent a citizen from forming, holding, and expressing a bonafide opinion’ in public interest on any institution that is a creature of the Constitution is not a reasonable restriction and violates the basic principles on which our democracy is founded.”

The affidavit said the power of contempt under Article 129 of the Constitution should be utilized to aid in administration of justice and not to shut out voices that seek accountability from the court for the errors of omissions and commissions.

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