“An independent judiciary consisting of independent judges and lawyers, is the basis of the rule of law in a Constitutional democracy. Mutual respect and the absence of coercion, are the hallmarks of a harmonious relationship between the bar and bench. Any tilting of the balance, one way or the other, is deleterious both to the institution and the nation.”
A battery of lawyers, including Senior Advocates have released a Statement appealing the Supreme Court to not give effect to the judgment dated 14.08.2020 that found advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt in the suo motu contempt petition initiated against him after he criticised the Supreme Court and the sitting and former CJIs in a couple of tweets.
“… the judgment must not be given effect to, until a larger bench, sitting in open court after the pandemic has the opportunity to review the standards of criminal contempt.”
The Statement reads that an independent judiciary does not mean that judges are immune from scrutiny and comment. It is the duty of lawyers to freely bring any shortcomings to the notice of bar, bench and the public at large.
“While some of us may have divergent views on the advisability and content of Mr. Prashant Bhushan’s two tweets, we are unanimously of the view that no contempt of court was intended or committed especially when contrasted with the normal standard that “Justice is not a cloistered virtue… She must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken comments of ordinary men”.”
While Mr. Prashant Bhushan as a lawyer of good standing of the Supreme Court, may not be an ordinary man, his tweets do not say anything out of the ordinary, other than what is routinely expressed about the court’s working in recent years by many on public fora and on social media. Even some retired judges of the Supreme Court have expressed somewhat similar views.
The Statement goes on तो state that the judgment does not restore the authority of the court in the eyes of the public. Rather, it will discourage lawyers from being outspoken. From the days of the supersession of judges and the events thereafter, it has been the Bar that has been the first to stand in defence of the independence of the judiciary.
“A bar silenced under the threat of contempt, will undermine the independence and ultimately the strength of the Court. A silenced bar, cannot lead to a strong court.”
The lawyers also express a deep sense of disappointment about the Supreme Court’s disregard of the presence of the Attorney General KK Venugopal during the hearing and its refusal to seek his valuable opinion in the matter, which is mandated even as per contempt law.
The Statement concludes by saying that:
“We do believe that the Supreme Court will hear the Voice of the People expressed all around in last 72 hours on the subject and take corrective steps to prevent miscarriage of Justice and restore the confidence and respect that Citizens have generally reposed in it.”
Here’s the list of the Lawyers who have signed the Statement:
Background of the issue:
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:
The 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, JJ, in a 108-pages long verdict, said that:
“The scurrilous allegations, which are malicious in nature and have the tendency to scandalize the Court are not expected from a person, who is a lawyer of 30 years standing. In our considered view, it cannot be said that the above tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest.”
Read more on the judgment here
Read the Public Statement on Prashant Bhushan’s contempt case here