From the Viewsroom

Contempt of court fireworks

Paran Balakrishnan | Updated on August 09, 2020 Published on August 09, 2020

A curious sequence of events around Prashant Bhushan’s tweets

There are moments in the life of the judicial system that bring to mind the old saying about slumbering canines and how they should be left firmly alone. The Prashant Bhushan contempt case in the Supreme Court has begun to look like one such. The case stemmed from two tweets by Bhushan, a crusading lawyer who’s never shied from criticising the court. Bhushan’s tweets referred to Chief Justice of India Sharad A Bobde being photographed astride a Harley Davidson motorbike allegedly belonging to a BJP leader. The tweets led to lawyer Mehak Maheshwari filing a contempt petition against Bhushan. Then, Justice Arun Mishra, suo moto, launched a contempt action. Mishra also revived a dormant contempt case involving a 2009 Tehelka interview in which Bhushan alleged many chief justices had been corrupt. Incidentally, contempt is a charge judges normally use sparingly. Most famously, the legendary Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, remarked: “We will never use this jurisdiction to uphold our own dignity.”

Bhushan and his counsel Dushyant Dave have, however, hit back. Bhushan asserted his tweets had been in the interests of justice while his father, ex-law minister Shanti Bhushan, submitted a sealed envelope believed to name justices his son referred to in the Tehelka interview. In court, Dave brought up sexual harassment charges against ex-Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and that he’d sat in judgement on his own case. In addition, he alluded to some senior judges not getting sensitive cases. To the court’s credit, it didn’t seek to stop him. Mishra has reserved judgment.

Meanwhile, a petition filed by The Hindu’s N Ram, ex-union minister Arun Shourie and Bhushan’s challenges the constitutionality of section 2(c)(i) of the the Contempt of Courts Act, asserting it violates free speech. This case has been ‘deleted’ on grounds it should have been brought before Mishra. Says counsel, Satvik Varma: “This was a constitutional challenge and does not need to go before the bench hearing the contempt matter.” Will it be a legal molehill or a very large mountain?

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Published on August 09, 2020
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