Bhumika Pardesi, Research Scholar, Symbiosis Law School, Pune, Maharashtra
Mehak Rai Sethi, Research Scholar (Law) at University School of Law & Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Dwarka, Delhi
Re: Prashant Bhushan and another: Swivel of free speech and reasonable restrictions
“Fury said to a mouse, that he met in the house, ‘Let us both go to law: I will prosecute you - Come, I’ll take no denial; We must have a trial: For really this morning I’ve nothing to do’. Said the mouse to the cur, ‘Such a trial, dear Sir, with no jury or judge, would be wasting our breath’.
“I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,” Said cunning old Fury: “I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death”.1 - Lewis Caroll
This short poem by Lewis Caroll in his book Alice’s adventures in the wonderland, reflects the aggravated misuse of the Law of Contempt in the constitutional democracy of India, especially in the past decade.
Recently, a 3 judge-bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India comprising of J. Arun Mishra, J. B.R. Gawai and J. Krishna Murari, inducted suo moto criminal contempt proceedings against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Twitter (India) in lieu of two tweets posted by the advocate – one concerning a photograph of the then Chief Justice of India, Sharad Arvind Bobde, on a Harley Davidson amidst the covid-19 pandemic and the other about the functioning of the Supreme Court in the past six years under the four respective Chief Justices. The primary issue was whether the tweets issued were scandalous and targeted to lower the authority of the Supreme Court, thus falling within the bracket of section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971.
This case re-ignited the conflict of the Independence of Judiciary vs. Freedom of Speech and Expression in light of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 – an Act formulated with intention to protect independence of judiciary which is the main pillar of democracy. But the arbitrary and vague concoction of the provisions blur the difference between criticism and contempt thereby hammering the very essence of the Act’s inception, that is, strengthening the democratic framework of “we the people”.