Contempt of court basically means showing disrespect towards the dignity of the court or to scandalise the court or to prejudices, any judicial proceeding in anyways or even interferes with the administration of justice in any other manner.
On 14th of August 2020, a well-known advocate and activist Mr Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of contempt of court for his two tweets against the court and chief justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde. The first was on 27th June 2020, “When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs” and the second one was on 29th June 2020, “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 right to access justice!.” On 22nd July 2020, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognizance of the tweets as the basis for the proceedings and suo motu register the proceedings. The bench took the prima facie view that the aforesaid tweets which have brought the administration of justice in disrespect and 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, in the eyes of the public at large.
Can the Court have the power to take suo motu contempt proceedings against Adv. Prashant Bhushan? As per the Articles 129 and 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has been vested with the power to punish for contempt of Court including the power to punish for contempt of itself.
Contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both under section 12 of contempt of court act, 1971. On 31st August 2020, the Court fined Bhushan Rs. 1/- (Rupee One Only) and is required to pay Rs.1/- (Rupee One Only) before 15th September 2020. Further, in the event of non-compliance Bhushan would be punished with 3 months imprisonment and debarred from practising law for 3 years.
Prashant Bhushan, paid the one rupee fined imposed on him by the Supreme Court. However, due to unsatisfied with the judgment of the Supreme Court, he also has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against the judgement which held him of criminal contempt of court.
Some may agree with the judgement some may not, it completely depends upon the understanding of the people, but nobody has the right to disrespect the dignity of the court in the name of freedom of speech and expression. But the point is who will decide what can be said and what cannot be said within the scope of freedom of speech and expression.
Written By: Ms. Mitali Bhatt, Final Year Law Student, Jitendra Chauhan College of Law, Mumbai Law Intern at S. Bhambri & Associates (Delhi).