Nov 26, 2020

Contempt of Court often referred to simply as 'contempt', is the offence of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behaviour that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the Court. It is contained within Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India and within Contempt of Court act 1971 which also empowers the Court to punish those who are guilty of this offence.

There are broadly two categories of contempt: being disrespectful to legal authorities in the courtroom, or willfully failing to obey a court order. Contempt of Court as a concept seeks to protect Judicial Institutions from unwarranted attacks or criticism which lower it’s an authority or seek to belittle it.

A Noted advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan, was held guilty of Contempt of Court on August 14 for two tweets against present Chief Justice SA Bode and past four CJIs posted by Bhushan on June 27 and 29. The first tweet took a dig at an undeclared emergency and the role of the Supreme Court and the last four chief justices of India. The second tweet was about Chief Justice SA Bobde trying a Harley “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!” which the Supreme Court found was based on distorted facts and amounted to a cruel and malicious attack on Apex Court and destabilized the foundation of the judiciary, was on Monday sentenced to a token fine of Rs 1. In default of payment of a fine by September 15, Bhushan has to undergo imprisonment of three months and will face a practice ban of three years, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said in the judgment. While reading out the operative portion of the judgment on the quantum of sentence, Justice Arun Mishra noted that Bhushan failed to adhere to the advice of the Attorney General to express regret as Bhushan had argued that since he had done no wrong, he was not liable to apologize for anything as his criticism was constitutionally valid.

"While the matter was sub judice, Bhushan shared his statements to the court in media, gave interviews making remarks which further brought down the dignity of the court", the Court said. 

Before pronouncing the sentence, the Court had given Bhushan three chances to tender an unconditional apology. Still, Bhushan through his statement and his lawyers, his father Shanti Bhushan, Dushyant Dave, and Rajeev Dhawan said he stood by his tweets and was not asking for any leniency, mercy or magnanimity from the Court.

Following the decision of the Apex Court, in a certain news conference, Prashant Bhushan had said that he would abide by the decision of the Apex Court while holding an Rs. 1 coin which acted as a reference to the fine imposed on him by the Court.

The decision on the part of the Supreme Court to hold Bhushan guilty in contempt has widely been criticized by retired judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, lawyers, politicians, etc. as an attempt to quash reasonable dissent.

Prashant Bhushan’s case is probably the most ironic case so far to be witnessed in this modern era as The Supreme Court which is considered to be the protector of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression has by its judgment curtailed that very freedom by the exercise of its contempt jurisdiction. In this jurisdiction, the Court is the judge, victim, and prosecutor. This case can also be viewed as a shift of the country structure from Democracy to Autocracy for this judgment was just an opportunity for the courts to flex their muscle and show how intolerant they can be if any criticism comes in their way.

Contempt of Court is a colonial law which has been left as a legacy, For even in countries like the U.s and England have upheld the freedom of speech over judicial criticism and perhaps it's high time that India starts thinking on the same line, for this case will be remembered as a nail into the coffin of freedom of speech and expression.