Supreme Court to hear plea against contempt law on August 10

Prashant Bhushan. File  

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and K.M. Joseph of the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a writ petition jointly filed by veteran journalists N. Ram and Arun Shourie along with advocate Prashant Bhushan against the “incurably vague” law of holding a person in contempt for ‘scandalising the court’.

The Bench is scheduled to hear the case on August 10. It will be a virtual court hearing.

The petition has challenged the legality of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Court Act and the “chilling effect” it has on free speech and right to dissent.

Also read: Prashant Bhushan says ‘defective contempt petition’ ‘unilaterally’ listed by SC official

This plea has come even as the apex court has reserved its judgment on a suo motu contempt action against Mr. Bhushan for two of his tweets. The court has already, in an order initiating contempt, said the tweets undermine the authority of the court. The same Bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra, has also reserved its verdict on a 2009 contempt case against Mr. Bhushan for his comments about the judiciary in an interview to Tehelka magazine.

Section 2(c) (i) holds it is criminal contempt if a person publishes, by words spoken or written or by any other act, anything “which scandalises or tends to scandalise or lowers or tends to lower the authority of any court.”

“‘Scandalising the court’ is rooted in colonial assumption and objects, which have no place in legal orders committed to democratic constitutionality and maintenance of an open robust public sphere,” the petition said.

‘Allow further evidence’

Meanwhile, Mr. Bhushan on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to allow him to lead further evidence in his defence against the suo motu contempt action initiated on two of his tweets.

Álso Read | Supreme Court urged to withdraw contempt action against Prashant Bhushan

Mr. Bhushan said he was entitled under Section 17(5) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971 to mount his defence by filing a comprehensive affidavit. For this, he should be supplied with a copy of the contempt petition filed by Mehak Maheshwari and all other records connected to his tweet featuring his comments on a photograph of Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde on a heavy bike.

Mr. Maheshwari’s petition was converted into suo motu contempt action along with another tweet of Mr. Bhushan about the role of the Supreme Court in the past six years. A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra has reserved the suo motu case for judgment after hearing arguments for the whole day on August 5.

Preliminary affidavit

The noted civil rights lawyer said an affidavit filed by him last week narrating the reasons for his tweets was only a preliminary one. Judgment could not be pronounced on the basis of that affidavit alone.

“I may be allowed to lead further evidence in case the Supreme Court wishes to proceed further against me in this matter .... especially because it has been held that contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal in nature. Standard proof applicable is therefore that of proof beyond reasonable doubt,” Mr. Bhushan argued.

He objected to the clubbing of his tweets by the court to initiate a common contempt action. He said his second tweet on the role of the Supreme Court in the past years should be separately taken cognisance of. The CJI should, as master of roster, refer the case to an appropriate Bench.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 7:51:47 AM |

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