The Supreme Court today held advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt over two tweets which scandalised the court. The top court will hear arguments on sentencing in this matter on August 20. The SC said Twitter, which was also one of the parties against whom contempt proceedings were initiated, "is merely an intermediary and hence not liable for contempt."
"When a statement is calculated in order to malign the image of the judiciary, the Court would not remain a silent spectator, the Supreme Court observed while holding Bhushan in contempt. "When the authority of this Court is itself under attack, the Court would not be an onlooker," the 108-page judgment read.
The Supreme Court observed that even though a citizen has a right to criticise under the fundamental right to speech and expression, this right was subject to restrictions and "an attempt has to be made to properly balance" the two.
The Supreme Court had initiated contempt proceedings against Bhushan for two tweets he published in July observing that it brought "the administration of justice in disrepute 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…"
The first of the tweets which the apex court found "false, malicious and scandalous" was an image of CJI SA Bobde who was seen atop a Harley Davidson without a mask with the statement: '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 rights to access justice."
The three-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra observed that the picture was 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 top court clarified that the date on which the CJI is "alleged to have taken a ride on a motorbike" was during the period when it was on a summer break. "In any case, even during the said period, the vacation Benches of the Court were regularly functioning," the top court said. "The statement, that the CJI has kept the SC in lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental rights to access justice is patently false", the court said adding that "it would not be out of place to mention, that the alleged contemnor (Bhushan) has himself appeared on various occasions in number of matters through video conferencing."
The top court said that the second tweet, where Bhushan said democracy in India has been destroyed without a formal emergency and that the SC in the past six years played a key role in the destruction – especially the last four CJIs, was a clear criticism against the "entire Supreme Court and the last four CJIs."
The court noted that Bhushan being part of "the institution of administration of justice, instead of protecting the majesty of law has indulged into an act, which tends to bring disrepute to the institution of administration of justice." The court observed that there was "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," it added.
Any attack on the judiciary should be dealt with firmly "in order to protect the larger public interest". No doubt, that the Court is required to be magnanimous… 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 court said.