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Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of Criminal contempt of the Court for his tweets: SC


The bench comprising of Hon’ble Justice ARUN MISHRA, Hon’ble Justice B.R. GAVAI and Hon’ble Justice KRISHNA MURARI held that Mr. Prashant Bhushan is guilty of having committed criminal contempt of the Court.

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court by one Mahek Maheshwari bringing to the notice of the Court, a tweet made by Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Advocate, alleged contemnor No.1 praying therein to initiate contempt proceedings against the alleged contemnors for wilfully and deliberately using hate/scandalous speech against the Court and entire judicial system. The Registry placed the said petition on the Administrative side of the Court seeking direction as to whether it should be listed for hearing or not, as consent of the learned Attorney General for India had not been obtained by the said Shri Maheshwari to file the said petition. After  examining the matter on the Administrative side, the court on the administrative side directed the matter to be listed on the Judicial side to pass appropriate orders. Accordingly, the petition was placed before us on 22.7.2020.

The question for consideration before this Hon’ble Court is whether the said tweets are entitled to protection under Article 19(1) of the Constitution as a fair criticism of the system, made in good faith in the larger public interest or not.

The Contemnor No.1 submitted that expressing his anguish by highlighting the said incongruity and the attendant facts, the first tweet cannot be said to constitute contempt of court. It is submitted, that if it is regarded as a contempt, it would stifle free speech and would constitute an unreasonable restriction on the right of a citizen under Article l9(1)(a) of the Constitution. Regarding the Second tweet, it is submitted, that the first part of the tweet contains his considered opinion, that democracy has been substantially destroyed in India during the last six years. The second part is his opinion, that the Supreme Court has played a substantial role in allowing the destruction of the democracy and the third part is his opinion regarding the role of the last 4 Chief Justices in particular in allowing it. It is his submission, that such an expression of opinion, however outspoken, disagreeable or 6 however unpalatable to some, cannot constitute contempt of court. It is his contention, that it is the essence of a democracy that all institutions, including the judiciary, function for the citizens and the people of this country and they have every right to freely and fairly discuss the state of affairs of an institution and build public opinion in order to reform the institution.

It has been submitted, that the alleged contemnor No.2 has no editorial control on the tweets and merely acts as a display board. It is also submitted, that under section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 the alleged contemnor no.2 has been provided safe harbour as an intermediary for any objectional posts on its platform posted by its users. It is lastly submitted, that to show its bonafides, the alleged contemnor No.2 after the order dated 22.07.2020 of this court, taking cognizance of the impugned tweets, blocked the access to the said tweets and disabled the same.

Relying on the definition of ‘criminal contempt’ as is found in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, Shri Dushyant Dave, learned Senior Counsel, submits, that the order issuing notice does not state that any act of the alleged contemnor No.1 scandalizes or tends to scandalize or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any Court. Neither does it mention, that any of his act prejudices or interferes or tends to interfere with, 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 manner. He therefore submits, that, as such, the proceedings initiated by this Court cannot continue.

After hearing the submission by the Contemnor No1, the Hon’ble apex court observed that;

There cannot be any manner of doubt, that the said tweet is directed against the Supreme Court, tending to give an impression, that the Supreme Court has a particular role in the destruction of democracy in the last six years and the last four CJIs had a more particular role in the same. It is clear, that the criticism is against the entire Supreme Court and the last four CJIs. The criticism is not against a particular judge 100 but the institution of the Supreme Court and the institution of the Chief Justice of India. The impression that the said tweet tends to convey is that the judges who have presided in the Supreme Court in the period of last six years have particular role in the destruction of Indian democracy and the last four CJIs had a more particular role in it.

Indian judiciary is considered by the citizens in the country with the highest esteem. The judiciary is considered as a last hope when a citizen fails to get justice anywhere. The Supreme Court is the epitome of the Indian judiciary. An attack on the Supreme Court does not only have the effect of tending an ordinary litigant of losing the confidence in the Supreme Court but also may tend to lose the confidence in the mind of other judges in the country in its highest court. A possibility of the other judges getting an impression that they may not stand protected from malicious attacks, when the Supreme Court has failed to protect itself from malicious insinuations, cannot be ruled out.

The Indian Constitution has given a special role to the constitutional courts of this country. The Supreme Court is a protector of the fundamental rights of the citizens, as also is endowed with a duty to keep the other pillars of democracy i.e. the Executive and the Legislature, within the constitutional bounds. If an attack is made to shake the confidence that the public at large has in the institution of judiciary, such an attack has to be dealt with firmly. No doubt, that it may be better in many cases for the judiciary to adopt a magnanimously charitable attitude even when utterly uncharitable and unfair criticism of its operations is made out of bona fide concern for improvement.

The summary jurisdiction of this Court is required to be exercised not to vindicate the dignity and honour of the individual judge, who is personally attacked or scandalised, but to uphold the majesty of the law and of the administration of justice. The foundation of the judiciary is the trust and the confidence of the people in its ability to deliver fearless and impartial justice. When the foundation itself is sought to be shaken by acts which tend to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of the court by creating distrust in its working, the edifice of the judicial system gets eroded. The scurrilous/malicious attacks by the alleged contemnor No.1 are not only against one or two judges but the entire Supreme Court in its functioning of the last six years. Such an attack which tends to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of this Court cannot be ignored.

Hence, the Court held that

“we hold alleged contemnor No.1 – Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of having committed criminal contempt of this Court.”


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