CONTEMPT OF COURT: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF PRASHANT BHUSHAN CASE
India is a Democratic, Socialist, Secular, Sovereign, and Republic Country following the principles of Justice, Equity, and liberty and assuring its citizens the same. The Country is governed by the Constitution of India, the Supreme law of the land. The Constitution of India lays down the framework defining the functioning of the country and the rights conferred within the citizens of the country. India adopted a Democratic System and conferred the power within its citizens “For the People, By the People and Of the People”. India adopted the Quasi-federal system.
The essence of a federal constitution is the division of powers between the Central and State Governments. The language of the constitution is not free from ambiguity and its meaning is likely to be interpreted differently by different authorities at different times; it is but natural that disputes might arise between the center and its constituent units. In order to maintain and protect the Constitution’s Supremacy, independent and impartial authority must be there to decide disputes.
This function can be entrusted to a judicial body only Judiciary is independent and must be respected as it is supreme. No person whether being an official or general citizen has a right to disrespect or disobey the order or proceedings of the judiciary and ‘any behavior or wrongdoing that conflicts with or challenges the authority, integrity, and superiority of the court’ amounts to contempt and shall be prosecuted. Though the literal meaning and provision for Contempt of Court are not mentioned in the Constitution, the said has been defined under the Contempt of the Courts Act 1971.
CONTEMPT OF COURT AND POSITION UNDER CONSTITUTION
Before Independence India, was ruled by the British Crown and the East India Company. Way back in there, there were various and different types of courts formed for trial and delivering justice, mostly the base of justice used to be based on Justice, Equity, and good conscience. Before that, there was a Monarchy System where the king was the majesty and their decisions were final and beyond changes. Those disrespecting or disobeying the decision of the king were to be punished or penalized. After the Independence, and enactment of the Constitution, to deliver justice was in the hands of the Judiciary.
The concept of Contempt of Court originated from the judgment of J Wilmot in 1765, where it was said that the contempt of court was necessary to maintain the dignity and majesty of judges and vindicate their power. Later in the year 1926, an act named: the Contempt of Court Act was passed to establish a more rigid procedure of punishment and to bring a little transparency but later this act was also replaced with Contempt of Court Act, 1952. This act was again later replaced by the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 on the recommendations made by a committee headed by Mr. H.N. Sanyal as the previous act was dissatisfactory, uncertain, and undefined.
The Contempt of Court Act, 1971 defines and limits the powers of certain courts in punishing contempt of courts and to regulate their procedure and protect the independence judiciary. Contempt of Court is not defined in the Constitution but, section 2 of the Act, 1971, defines the same as means civil contempt or criminal contempt. In simple terms, Contempt of court denotes an act of wrongdoing that conflicts with or challenges the authority, integrity, and superiority of the court. It is an act aiming to punish any act of a person hurting the dignity and authority of judicial tribunals
According to the act, contempt is classified into two:- Civil and Criminal Contempt. Civil contempt means willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ, or other processes of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court and Criminal contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act which scandalizes or lowers or tends to lower the authority. To protect the dignity of the judiciary the Indian Constitution empowers the Supreme Court and High Court under article 129 and 215 and declares that the Supreme Court and Every High Court as a Court of Record. It includes the power to punish for its contempt. The acts also provide provisions for punishment of the offense of contempt which consists of imprisonment and fine. The sole motive behind the punishment is to ensure that the dignity and integrity of the judiciary and its functioning are protected and to make sure that no such act is repeated.
In Dr.D.C.Saxena vs. Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India [1996 SCC (7) 216] it was held that Dr. Saxena was guilty of contempt and sentenced with simple imprisonment for three months as the allegation made by him in respect of the CJI in performance of his judicial function intended to lower the authority and respect for the Court and office of the Judge. Thus anything whether by words spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise published against the judiciary or its organs amounts to constitute the offense of contempt of court and will be trialed accordingly.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF PRASHANT BHUSHAN CONTEMPT CASE
Article 19 (1) Provides a fundamental right to the citizens of the country to have freedom of speech and expression but this freedom of speech and expression is not absolute it is subjected to certain restrictions to be imposed and is to be read with article 19(2) which States certain restrictions imposed on the said fundamental right in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of the state, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency on morality or concerning contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense.
Mr. Prashant Bhushan a very senior and famous lawyer, who is known as a PIL lawyer and has contested several important matters in the public interest such as coal scam, 2 G scam lately was charged under article 129 for contempt of court case. Mr. Bhushan alleged while exercising his freedom of speech and the right to criticize wrote a derogatory tweet on a social media platform “Twitter”. Mr. Bhushan in his tweet has attacked the highness, integrity, and dignity of the majesty of the Supreme Court. He wrote 2 tweets, one highlighting the current CJI riding a bike and the other one on the functioning of the Supreme Court in ‘destruction of democracy’.
A suo moto cognizance was taken by the court after a petition on 22.7.2020 was filed by Shri Mahek Maheshwari, against his tweet. In response, Mr. Bhushan filed an affidavit stating, the tweets ‘primarily underline his anguish at the non-physical functioning of the Supreme Court for the last more than three months, due to citizens in detention, those destitute and poor, and others facing serious and urgent grievances were not addressed or taken up for redressal’ violating their fundamental rights said the first tweet does not constitute contempt of court.
For the second tweet he said that the tweet has three distinct elements, ‘the first part of the tweet contains his considered opinion on democracy which in India during the last six years has been destroyed. The second part is his opinion, was to show the role of the Supreme Court in allowing the destruction of democracy and the third part talks about the role of previous Chief Justices in destruction.
Mr. Bhushan submitted that tweets posted by him were in the exercise of his right to speech and expression and were merely a result of his power to make a fair and constructive criticism of a judge, judiciary, and its functioning and not a target on the dignity of the judiciary or its functioning. He even through his affidavit raised an issue concerning the power of the court to take suo moto cognizance as the petition was filed by Mr. Mahek Maheshwari and to proceed further with the trial approval from the attorney general is needed, which in the present case is not taken.
But was rejected by the court and declared that after relying on the various judgments of this court such as Pritam Pal vs. High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Vinay Chandra Mishra, Supreme Court Bar Association vs. Union of India, and another and others the court has the power to proceed this case for contempt as the said action has been informed and based on the information received the action and notice has been initiated.
It was held by the court that the statement tweeted by Mr. Bhushan had the tendency to create a feeling of hatred and had the power to shake the confidence of the public at large for the CJI and the judiciary and administered to lower down the dignity of the institution. The court believes that the tweets were not made bona fidely and do not amount to fair or constructive criticism. Thus, the court observed the saying of ‘C.J. Hidayatullah that, when the conduct of a person tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or disregard, the same would amount to scandalizing the Court’ and the act of Mr. Bhushan did amount to scandalizing the image of judiciary and CJI and therefore the court by a 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari accordingly upheld and declared Prashant Bhushan guilty for the Criminal Contempt.
The court in the decision-directed Mr. Bhushan to reconsider his view and respond to an apology letter for his conduct but Mr. Bhushan denied to offer an apology and was of the view that his action does not amount to conduct and said: “all he did was a constructive criticism and he expressed himself in good faith in regard to the peoples' rights,". The court imposed a fine of Re.1/ (Rupee one) on Prashant Bhushan which was supposed to be deposited with the Registry by 15.09.2020, and if failed then he shall undergo simple imprisonment for three months and thereof further would be debarred from practicing in this Court for three years.
Mr. Bhushan to not risk his career and reputation and further restraining his license to practice from being debarred paid the fine but still released the statement that he does not accept the decision of the court as it an attempt to curb his right and freedom of speech and expression and has even filed a review petition against the judgment.
Judiciary is the fourth pillar of democracy and also considered to be the center pillar, it is bound to protect and work in the favor of the welfare of the citizen and the constitution as it is the supreme entity. The Constitution of India does provide its citizens with Fundamental rights which need to be protected but all these rights aren't absolute and do amount to certain restrictions and limitations. Mr. Bhushan while exercising his right under Article 19(1) did misuse his power and the right as it violated the constitution article 19 (2), which laid down the restrictions imposed on the freedom of speech and his words did collaborate to the offense of criminal contempt.
The court mentioned that ‘a citizen while exercising right under Article 19(1) is entitled to make a fair criticism of a judge, judiciary and its functioning. Rights under Article 19 are also subjected to certain restriction for the welfare. The right under Article 19(1) and the reasonable restriction under clause (2) of Article 19 must be balanced. Any statement made by a under Article 19(1) exceeds the limits, or which pertains to scandalize or defame the judges and institution Courts will come under the head of contempt.
Judiciary is the guardian of the rule of law and should protect the interests of the general public and the democratic structure of the nation and in the exercise of this obligation needs to make certain judgments that tend to in the favour of the welfare of the general public and relation to the dignity of the judiciary. The judgment delivered by the court in the Prashant Bhushan Contempt case tends to be yet another milestone for the future and the protection of the integrity of the system.
NAME: Sakshi Sankhla
UNIVERSITY: RNB Global University
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