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SC holds Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court

Supreme Court holds lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court

Had he been pro-establishment, he would have been conferred with 'Padma Vibhushan', Bhushan's lawyer said.

Prashant Bhushan

The Supreme Court on Friday held activist-advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty in Suo Motu criminal contempt case initiated against him for his tweets made on "distorted facts" to make "malicious and scurrilous attack" against not only against one or two judges but entirely on its functioning. 

Holding that his tweets tend to shake public confidence in judiciary, a three-judge bench, presided over by Justice Arun Mishra fixed August 20 as the date of hearing him on quantum of sentence, which may go upto maximum jail term of six months.

The bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, said if an attack is made to shake the confidence that the public at large has in the institution of judiciary, such an attack has to be dealt with firmly. 

"An attempt to shake the very foundation of constitutional democracy has to be dealt with an iron hand. The tweet has the effect of destabilising the very foundation of this important pillar of the Indian democracy," the bench said, in 108 judgement authored by Justice Mishra.

The advocate, who was issued notice on July 22 for his two tweet on June 27 and 29 against the judiciary, had tried to explain that the tweets reflected his anguish and were bona fide criticism of the court. 

The bench, however, said making scurrilous allegations, which are malicious in nature and have the tendency to scandalise the court was not expected from a person, who is a lawyer of 30 years standing.

"He has made such a false, scandalous and malicious statement having himself availed the right of an access to justice during the said period, not only as a lawyer but also as a litigant," the bench said.

The court reminded Bhushan that he himself was granted protection from arrest in a criminal case lodged in Rajkot during the period of lockdown on May 1.

Since March 23 till August 4, various benches had 879 sittings to hear the matters through video conferencing. It heard 12,748 matters and dealt with 686 writ petitions during the period of lockdown.

After the cognisance of the matter was taken, micro-blogging site Twitter had disabled the tweets, which the court said, reached millions of people.

Mahek Maheshwari, a Gwalior-based lawyer, had filed a contempt petition against Bhushan which was converted into Suo Motu criminal contempt.

Bhushan claimed accepting the petition by Maheshwari, filed without consent from the Attorney General or the Solicitor General, was illegal in terms of Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act. But this plea was rejected by the court.

During the arguments, senior advocate Dushyant Dave strongly defended Bhushan's tweets, saying there was nothing wrong in criticising the judiciary. Those tweets did not attack the independence of judiciary or caused obstruction in administration of justice, he had said.

However, the bench said, "In our considered view, it cannot be said that the tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest".

He had also highlighted Bhushan's invaluable and untiring efforts in several landmark cases. Had he been pro-establishment, he would have been conferred with 'Padma Vibhushan', Dave had said.