7 former SC judges back lawyer Prashant Bhushan, support call to withdraw contempt notice
New Delhi: Seven former Supreme Court judges have endorsed a statement by 131 activists, jurists and lawyers, expressing solidarity with advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was issued a contempt notice by the top court last week.
On Wednesday, Justices Ruma Pal, G.S. Singhvi, A.K. Ganguly, Gopala Gowda, Aftab Alam, Jasti Chelameswar and Vikramjit Sen signed the solidarity statement that was released on 27 July.
The statement called upon the top court to withdraw the contempt proceedings against Bhushan “in the interest of justice and fairness and to maintain the dignity of the Supreme Court of India”.
The 131 signatories include former Supreme Court judge Madan B. Lokur and Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav. It urged the top court to reconsider its decision to initiate suo motu contempt proceedings against Bhushan.
Former Delhi HC chief justice A.P. Shah, ex-Patna HC judge Anjana Prakash, historian Ramachandra Guha author Arundhati Roy, activist Harsh Mander and lawyer Indira Jaising among several others, also signed the statement.
Contempt notice to Bhushan over 2 tweets
An apex court bench led by Justice Arun Mishra had issued notices to Bhushan and Twitter on 22 July for two of his tweets on the incumbent and former Chief Justices of India (CJIs).
The bench had said the tweets “prima facie brought the administration of justice into disrepute”.
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In a tweet on 27 June, Bhushan had written about the “role of the Supreme Court” in the “destruction” of democracy during the last six years, and had also mentioned the “role of the last 4 CJIs” in it. His second tweet on 29 June commented on CJI S.A. Bobde astride a Harley Davidson bike. He had questioned the CJI for riding a bike without a helmet and a face mask, while “he keeps the SC in lockdown mode”.
During the hearing, Twitter’s counsel had sought a direction to itself to delete the tweets. But later the lawyer agreed to advise his clients to take appropriate measures in view of the court’s “prima facie” opinion. Within 72 hours of the contempt notice, Bhushan’s tweets were withheld by Twitter.
Two days later, the same bench decided to expedite another contempt case against Bhushan that has been pending for almost a decade. This case dates back to 2009 when Bhushan gave an interview to Tehelka magazine where he had allegedly made serious imputation against the then CJI S.H. Kapadia by stating that the top judge had heard a matter involving Sterlite company despite holding shares in it.
The complaint was made by senior advocate Harish Salve, who was the amicus curiae in the Sterlite case.
Concern about SC’s reluctance to ‘carry out its constitutionally mandated role’
The statement by activists and judges raised concern about the SC’s “reluctance” to carry out its “constitutionally mandated role as a check on governmental excess and violation of fundamental rights of the people by the state”.
It added that the Supreme Court must be open to public discussion without the fear of retribution.
“The principle that criticism of the judiciary should not be stifled by indiscriminate use of the power of contempt has been recognised by the Supreme Court as well as by academics and advocates of repute,” the statement said.
“The initiation of contempt proceedings against Mr. Bhushan, who had articulated some of these concerns in his tweets, appears to be an attempt at stifling such criticism, not just by Mr. Bhushan, but by all stakeholders in the Indian democratic and constitutional set-up,” read the solidarity statement.