In condemning the lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan for contempt, the Supreme Court took a cautious approach. In a 108-page judgment, the Supreme Court of the Land could not defend itself from malicious attacks aimed at shaking public confidence in the epitome of the Indian judiciary; it would send a warning.
In condemning the lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan for contempt, the Supreme Court took a cautious approach on Friday in dealing with the age-old conflict between the right to free speech and the contempt of the court to rule that freedom of expression was necessary but could not be used to interfere maliciously with the administration of justice.
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Facts of the case
In a 108-page judgment condemning activist-advocate Prashant Bhushan for contempt of court for his false and malicious; tweets to scandalize the SC, the Supreme Court of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari said that if the Supreme Court of the Land could not defend itself from malicious attacks aimed at shaking public confidence in the epitome of the Indian judiciary; it would send a warning.
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Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari have said that a person is entitled to make legitimate criticisms of judges and the judiciary, but that freedom of speech must remain within the limits of the appropriate restrictions set out in Article 19(2). “If a person, while exercising his right under Article 19(1), exceeds the limits and makes a statement which tends to scandalize judges and the institution of the administration of justice, that action will be brought in the form of contempt of the court,” he said.
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The bench laid down two more aspects of freedom of expression that would amount to disrespect for the ruling. “When a person makes a comment that appears to undermine the integrity and legitimacy of this court, it will be the same in the sense of ‘judicial contempt.’ If such a statement threatens to shake public confidence in judicial institutions, it would also fall within the limits of ‘criminal contempt,’ he said. The Board clarified that the criticism of the judge, as an individual and not as a judge, would not fall within the ambit of contempt.”However, if a complaint is made against a judge as a judge and has an adverse impact on the administration of justice, the court will definitely have the right to rely on the jurisdiction of contempt,” he said.
“The court must act with urgency and severity where justice is threatened by a gross and/or baseless assault on the judges and where the assault is intended to impede or kill the judicial process,” said the bench, citing the judgment of Justice Krishna Iyer in this matter.Justice Iyer further noted that, after evaluating the totality of factors, if the court finds the assault on a judge or a judge to be scurrilous, abusive, threatening or malicious beyond condonable limits, the strong arm of the law will, in the name of public interest and public justice, carry a blow to those who challenge the supremacy of the rule of law by trampling its source and stream.
Giving another aspect to the contempt of the court, the bench said, “This jurisdiction can also be exercised where the act complained of adversely affects the majesty of law or the integrity of the courts. The object of the contempt of jurisdiction is to uphold the supremacy and integrity of the courts of law. This jurisdiction is not to be exercised in order to protect the dignity of the individual judge, but to protect the dignity of the individual judge.
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“There is no doubt that, while exercising the right to fair criticism under Article 19(1), if a person bona fide exceeds the right in the public interest, the court will be slow to exercise the jurisdiction to contempt and display magnanimity. However, if such a comment were calculated in order to misrepresent the reputation of the judiciary, the court would not remain a silent spectator. If the authority of this court is itself under attack, the court should not be an onlooker, “said Justice Gavai, who wrote the 108-page judgment.
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This post is written by Kosha Doshi.
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