Noted civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan maintained in the Supreme Court that his tweets in June of a photograph showing Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde astride a bike and the court’s role in the past six years amounted to ‘criticism’ and not contempt.
“This is criticism… Why don’t you take it objectively?” senior advocate Dushyant Dave, for Mr. Bhushan, asked a three-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra on Wednesday.
Mr. Dave said 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.
Justice Mishra asked whether Mr. Dave was justifying the press conference or what was said in it.
“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 senior lawyer asked.
He said hundreds of people had tweeted the photograph of Chief Justice Bobde on the motorbike. “There are many amusing tweets by others… Is the court going to call them all in?” Mr. Dave asked.
Driven by anguish
He said Mr. Bhushan’s tweets were driven by anguish. He referred to how some sections of the media generated hate against the members of the Tablighi Jamaat who got sick. He submitted that some recent cases required a timely healing touch from the Supreme Court.
“You are both mother and father to a 100 crore people! You are their parents… You alone can do something for the people,” Mr. Dave submitted in court.
He referred to the judgments in the Rafale and Ayodhya title dispute cases. He recalled how a Supreme Court judge had sat in his own cause on a Saturday. He wondered when the Justice A.K. Patnaik report on the “larger conspiracy” against judiciary would come out.
“These are serious issues striking at the core of the judiciary. Anyone would be anguished,” Mr. Dave said.
He spoke of the numerous public interest causes brought to court by Mr. Bhushan. “There was no malice [in the tweets]. We want the court to be stronger. It is our duty to correct the errors made in some issues,” Mr. Dave said.
He argued that the right to dissent and free speech cannot be controlled by contempt proceedings.
“Contempt is to be used sparingly and only for administration of justice. If a judge is defamed, he should seek relief in the ordinary laws of defamation,” Mr. Dave submitted.
He referred to how in the infamous Spycatcher case in the U.K., a paper carried a caricature of the judges drawn upside down. However, no contempt was drawn.
“The court cannot succumb to easy irritability,” Mr. Dave emphasised, referring to judgments of the Supreme Court itself dating back to the 1950s.
Justice Mishra intervened to say the court has broad shoulders.
“This case is not about winning or losing. No one wins or loses in such cases,” Justice Mishra said.
The Bench finally reserved the suo motu contempt case for orders.
Rrefuses to entertain writ petition
It separately refused to entertain a writ petition by Mr. Bhushan that the suo motu contempt action was issued on the basis of a ‘defective’ petition illegally listed by the Supreme Court Registry before the Justice Mishra Bench.
“We have followed the law,” Justice Mishra said categorically, dismissing the writ plea.