SC fines Prashant Bhushan one rupee for contempt of court
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan held guilty of contempt for his tweets criticising Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court, has been fined Re 1 by the Supreme Court.
The bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, directed the lawyer to deposit the amount by September 15, failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarment from law practice for three years.
The Apex Court on August 14 held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt of court for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary and stated that the allegations levelled in the tweets against the court were malicious in nature and had the tendency to scandalise the court.
According to the Supreme Court, the tweets could not be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
What do you mean by Contempt of Court?
According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt. Civil contempt means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court. On the other hand, criminal contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which
- scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
- prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
- interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.
A 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, provided that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.
Refusing to Apologizing for Tweets
- The Supreme Court had sought an unconditional apology, maintaining that freedom of speech is not absolute. “You may do hundreds of good things, but that doesn’t give you a license to do ten crimes,” the court had said.
- On 25 August, Dhavan, representing Bhushan, had suggested that the top court recall the 14 August verdict convicting him for contempt of court and not impose any sentence and urged it to not only close the case but also to bring an end to the controversy.
- Bhushan in his statement had refused to offer an apology to the Supreme Court for his two tweets against the judiciary, saying what he expressed represented his authentic belief which he continued to hold.
- He refused to retract his comments or apologise, saying he considered it the discharge of his “highest duty” and apologizing would be contempt of his conscience and the court. According to him, open criticism was necessary to safeguard the democracy and its values and he would cheerfully accept punishment.
- Prashant Bhushan has repeatedly refused to apologise for his tweets, saying they were not done in “absence mindedness” and were nothing but a small attempt to discharge what he considered to be his “highest duty at this juncture in the history of our republic”.
- Referring to Bhushan’s statements and his refusal to apologise, the bench had stated that mistakes were committed by all but they needed to be accepted, but here Bhushan was not willing to accept that.
- Mr Bhushan has already expressed regret in another contempt case involving his comment that half the 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt, in an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009. The word corruption, he told the court, was used in “wide sense meaning lack of propriety” and not financial corruption. The Supreme Court says it wants to explore whether corruption charges can be made against sitting and retired judges and the procedure to deal with it.
What had Prashant Bhushan Tweeted?
- Bhushan had on June 27 tweeted that historians will mark the role of the Supreme Court in contributing to what he considered as destruction of democracy. “When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction, and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs”, he wrote on Twitter.
- In another tweet on June 29, the lawyer had posted a photo of CJI Bobde sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle with the text alongside reading: “The CJI rides a Rs 50-lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without wearing a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC on lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!”
The court said while criticism was welcome, one should not “attribute motives to judges” since they cannot go to the press to defend themselves and “can only speak through judgements”.
Supreme Court finally imposes a fine of Re 1 fine on Prashant Bhushan. In case of default, he will be barred from practising for 3 years & will be imprisoned of 3 months