Today a three judge Bench of the Hon'ble Supreme Court comprising of Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari decided to hear the contempt case filed in the year 2009 against Advocate Prashant Bhushan on merits.
The case dealt with Advocate Prashant Bhushan’s statements regarding corruption in the judiciary. Allegedly, in an interview with Tehelka Magazine, Mr. Bhushan made a statement that half of the last 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt. As per the complaint he also made allegations against former Chief Justices of India SH Kapadia and KG Balakrishnan. The Bench will start the hearing on August 17, 2020.
The Bench stated “we need to check whether statements made regarding corruption amounts to contempt of court. Thus we need to hear the matter.”
The Supreme Court had asked for an apology in this matter. Advocate Prashant Bhushan however, refused to tender an apology, following which, the court passed an order to hear the case on merits.
Is it contempt or is it easy irritability of the Judiciary?
This case has raised a serious conflict between freedom of speech and expression and contempt of court. Criminal contempt is an act to scandalize, lower, or try to lower the reputation of the court. Civil rights advocate Mr. Prashant Bhushan noted that expression of opinions and bona fide anguish, however disagreeable and outspoken it may be, can not amount to contempt of court. In the leading S.Mulgaokar case (1978), the apex court had held “the dogs may bark, the caravan will pass. The Court will not be prompted to act as a result of an easy irritability.” Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Though limited by the restrictions laid down under Article 19(2), the exercise of powers against contempt must not go beyond the reasonable restrictions.