The Supreme Court of India gave the final judgment of the criminal contempt case against the prominent lawyer, Mr. Prashant Bhushan on Monday. A fine ₹1 was imposed on him and if the lawyer fails to do so, he will be jailed for 3 months besides a debarment from practice for a period of 3 years.
It was the two tweets of Mr. Bhushan which were said to be derogatory and “scandalising” the court. Scandalising the court broadly refers to statements or publications which have the effect of undermining public confidence in the judiciary. The Contempt of Court Act, 1971, outlines the procedure in relation to investigation and punishment for contempt. The objective behind this is to prevent the degradation of the court’s image in the eyes of the people, thereby securing the public confidence in the courts.
The case against Mr. Bhushan was filed because of his tweets where he accused CJI Bobde of hypocrisy, posting the judge’s image on a luxurious Harley-Davidson bike. He wrote that the CJI is riding a bike without helmet and mask, keeping the doors of the court closed for the public. In another of his tweets, Mr. Bhushan had targetted the SC especially the last four CJIs and held them responsible for the “destruction of democracy” in India.
The case was historical as it focused on the limitations to the Fundamental Right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. The contempt of case is a “reasonable restriction” to free speech. There has always been a clash between free speech on one hand and the public/national interests on the other. The SC judgement of imposing a fine of ₹1 can be said to be an attempt to strike a balance between the two. The lawyer was punished in a way that he is declared guilty while also not being too harsh on him in the sentence. The case against Mr.Bhushan was seen as a test of free expression in the world’s largest democracy.