In Re Prashant Bhushan vs Court That a Notice Was Issued.

In Re Prashant Bhushan vs Court That a Notice Was Issued.

In Re Prashant Bhushan vs Court That a Notice Was Issued.
In Re Prashant Bhushan vs Court That a Notice Was Issued.





Contempt of court is one of the crimes in India and it can be civil and criminal in nature. In Re Prashant Bhushan vs Court That a Notice Was Issued To … on 14 August, 2020. This article aims to give brief about case which include facts, issue, judgement, conclusion, arguments of the both parties. Also discuss the provisions in which Prashant Bhushan had taken defense. 

SUMMARY OF THE FACTS On June 29, 2020, Advocate Prashant Bhushan took to Twitter to express his disappointment with Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, for riding a 50-lakh motorcycle without a mask or helmet, which belonged to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur. He also criticized the fact that the Supreme Court was in lockdown mode, denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice. Just two days prior, on June 27, 2020, Bhushan had tweeted about the former CJIs, stating that the Supreme Court played a significant role in the destruction of democracy in India over the last six years. 

Following these tweets, a petition was filed against Bhushan and Twitter India by Mahek Maheswari, represented by Advocate Anuj Saxena, on July 2. The petition requested the court to initiate contempt of court proceedings against Bhushan, alleging that his tweets had scandalized the court and inspired a feeling of no-confidence in the independence of the judiciary. 

The Supreme Court took Suo moto cognizance and initiated contempt proceedings against Bhushan. 

During the proceedings, Bhushan clarified that his initial tweet was made to express his disappointment with the CJI’s reckless attitude in riding a motorcycle without a mask while simultaneously restraining the Supreme Court from functioning physically during the lockdown period due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He also argued that the proceedings of contempt were an attempt to stifle free speech and were violative of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. For his second tweet, he maintained that it was a Bonafide expression of his opinion on the Court’s and past four CJI’s role in impairing democratic ideals within the last six years, which cannot constitute contempt as a protected freedom under the Constitution of India.

According to the established conventions of the Supreme Court of India, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) holds the title of ‘Master of the Roaster’ and possesses the authority to assign cases to judges. However, there has been an increasing scrutiny of this power, as it has been used by CJIs to promote authoritarianism, majoritarianism, and suppress dissent within the country. Prashant Bhushan argued that questioning the conduct of CJIs in their individual capacities does not amount to scandalizing the Court itself. Therefore, he believed that his tweets did not interfere with the administration of justice or the proper functioning of the Court. Bhushan emphasized that criticizing judges in a fair and assertive manner is not a crime, but rather a fundamental right in a democracy.


Whether Prashant Bhushan’s tweets on 27 and 29 June 2020 punishable for criminal contempt of court or not


On July 22, the Supreme Court initiated proceedings based on two tweets posted on June 27 and 29, 2020. The bench expressed a preliminary view that these statements undermined the authority of the Court and specifically the Chief Justice in the eyes of the public. When Bhushan filed a writ petition, the court found him guilty of criminal contempt of court. Subsequently, he requested a deferral of the sentencing hearing on August 19, and the court, on August 20, issued a concise order demanding an unconditional apology from Bhushan before August 24. However, Bhushan submitted a supplementary statement on August 24 instead. 

On August 31, the Supreme Court imposed a fine of Re.1 on Bhushan, which he was required to pay before September 15, 2020. Failure to comply would result in a three-month imprisonment and a three-year prohibition from practicing law.

In light of the extensive discussion that followed the Supreme Court’s ruling in the sentencing order issued on August 31, 2020, the court addressed certain arguments. It stated that defaming the Supreme Court constituted an abuse of freedom of speech. While constructive criticism was an acceptable defense, it was subject to reasonable limitations outlined in Article 19(2) due to public interest. The Court also emphasized that criticizing the judiciary is not safeguarded by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and amounted to contempt. In situations where there was a clash between upholding judicial independence and maintaining respect, neither could supersede the other.

Precedent case

Prashant Bhushan had paid the fine of Rs. 1 to the Supreme Court (Apex court) and he reserved separately the right to file review petitions against his conviction and judgment. In his review petition, he pointed out that the Apex Court did not slightly indicate during the proceedings that he would be debarred from appearing before the Court. It was inconsistent with the precedent laid down in R.K. Anand v Registrar, Delhi High Court by three-Judge bench. It was held by the Supreme Court that it must be clearly stated to the advocate before passing an order of debarring him from appearing in courts and must be told that his alleged conduct was of such a nature that if he is found guilty, he will be debarred.

It was also held by the court that this warning must be given during the initial notice of contempt or after the accused is held for criminal contempt guilt before dealing with the question of punishment.

It was submitted by Prashant Bhushan that the power and discretion of the judiciary to impose punishment for contempt of court should be strictly according to Section 12 of Contempt of Court Act. However, The Supreme Court did not take into account Section 30 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 which states and sets an upper limit for a proportion of a sentence in a punishment, in case of default or defaults in payment of fine it is imposed. And if the payment of the fine is not made then the imprisonment cannot exceed one-fourth of the term of imprisonment. According to the provision of the Contempt of Court Act 1971, the maximum period of imprisonment is six months and one-fourth of this is 1.5 months imprisonment. And Bhushan was sentenced to three month’s imprisonment in case of default of payment of the fine.

Bhushan argued that the constitutional protection against double jeopardy, as stated in Article 20(2) of the Constitution of India, was violated. He further claimed that the additional conviction, which was not presented to the accused, resulted in a violation of the right to a fair trial guaranteed under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Prashant Bhushan also pointed out that the Supreme Court overlooked the fact that under Article 19(1)(a), a reasonable person could have formed a genuine opinion about the functioning of the Court based on the statements made by the four senior-most judges of the Apex Court and other circumstances.

Regarding the orders of the Supreme Court, the judgment in this case was highly controversial. Justice Mishra’s final judgment before retirement revealed weak foundations and significant gaps in reasoning. The weakness of the judgment stemmed from the Court’s failure to fulfill its responsibilities as a crucial pillar of democracy.

It is worth noting that the Court disregarded Bhushan’s response during the hearing on August 5. Dushyant Dave, representing Prashant Bhushan, presented two main points. Firstly, the tweets were made in good faith and constituted fair criticism. Bhushan had even submitted a detailed affidavit explaining and citing relevant cases and legal provisions, which the Court failed to consider. However, the Apex Court found Bhushan guilty, largely ignoring the affidavit that supported his tweets as genuine criticism. Instead, the tweets were deemed malicious and defamatory.

In this case, the Court acted as if it possessed a monopoly over the truth. The Court typically assesses the fairness and truthfulness of criticism by examining all the evidence presented by the parties involved. However, in this instance, the Court determined and evaluated the tweets without considering their context.

Freedom of Speech and Expression

Article 19(1)(a) guarantees all citizens to have right to freedom of speech and expression. It is the ultimate guardian of all the values that are held by the Constitution. The right under Article 19(1)(a) is restricted under Article 19(2) which provides eight grounds for restriction of freedom of speech and expression, one of them is contempt of court. Article 19(20) is considered a “reasonable restriction” and by using this the court can hold contempt but only to the ais of administration of justice and not fasten the voice who seeks an answer from the court in the errors and omissions made.

Right to Appeal

Article 21 of the Constitution says that every citizen the right to appeal, and it is a substantive right but the court itself initiated the contempt proceedings and there was no provision for appeal in the judgment. Altogether there was a review provision, but the petition lied before the same bench of the Supreme Court.

Scandalizing the Court

The Supreme Court is regarded as the most powerful and apex court in the world and not only interprets laws but also takes part in governance, issues directions in a wide range of cases. It is also the highest court of appeal and the guardian of fundamental rights and an organ of governance. The tweets were considered as “scandalizing the court” but the judgment in the present case with irregularities in procedural and strained reasoning appeared to disrespect the image of Apex Court more than Bhushan’s tweets.


The authority of the Court to hold someone in contempt is intended to ensure the smooth operation and efficiency of the Court, rather than to safeguard the personal pride of a particular judge. Following the Court’s ruling, Bhushan held a press conference during which he stated his intention to file review petitions challenging the judgments. It is concluded from the above situation that the judgments delivered were much faster as compared to others and the Court would dispose of cases at the same pace just like it did in the case of Prashant Bhushan. 


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