Prashant Bhushan-Tehelka Contempt| SC refuses to accept advocate Bhushan’s explanation in 2009 case; says further hearing required

Supreme Court: In the 2009 contempt petition against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Tehelka Tarun Tejpal, the bench headed by Arun Mishra, J refused to accept the explanation of advocate Bhushan and said that further hearing is required in the matter.

“Before reaching to any finding whether the statement made as to “Corruption” would per se amount to Contempt of Court, the matter is required to be heard. “

The will now hear the matter on August 17, 2020.

Earlier, on August 4, the Court had 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.

On July 22, 2020, in another matter, 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 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.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for advocate Prashant Bhushan, in the suo motu contempt petition initiated by the Supreme Court against Advocate Bhushan, asked the Court,

“This is criticism… Why don’t you take it objectively?”

He also submitted that if a judge is defamed, he should seek relief in the ordinary laws of defamation.

He further submitted that a sitting judge, who went on to become a CJI, had ‘criticised’ the functioning of the Supreme Court in a presser in January 2018. Justice Ranjan Gogoi, one of the four judges who had met the media, went on to become the 46th Chief Justice and Justice Bobde’s immediate predecessor. Dave, in his submission said,

“The holding of January 2018 press conference was fully justified. If the then CJI was not listening to their points, what could they do? If citizens stand up and criticise the system, say everything is not hunky-dory, how can it be contempt?”

The Court has reserved the judgment in the said matter. Read more

[Amicus Curiae v. Prashant Bhushan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 635, order dated 10.08.2020]


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