The Supreme Court on Friday said fearless and impartial courts of justice are the bulwark of a healthy democracy and the confidence in them cannot be permitted to be impaired by malicious attacks upon them.
The top court's observation came in a verdict by which the activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan was held guilty of criminal contempt for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary saying they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said that the Supreme Court is a protector of the fundamental rights of the citizens, as also is endowed with a duty to keep the other pillars of democracy that is the Executive and the Legislature, within the constitutional bounds.
"If such an attack is not dealt with, with requisite degree of firmness, it may affect the national honour and prestige in the comity of nations. Fearless and impartial courts of justice are the bulwark of a healthy democracy and the confidence in them cannot be permitted to be impaired by malicious attacks upon them," the bench said.
The bench also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari said attack on the Supreme Court does not only have the effect of tending an ordinary litigant of losing the confidence in the top court but also may tend to lose the confidence in the mind of other judges in the country in its highest court.
"A possibility of the other judges getting an impression that they may not stand protected from malicious attacks, when the Supreme Court has failed to protect itself from malicious insinuations, cannot be ruled out. As such, in order to protect the larger public interest, such attempts of attack on the highest judiciary of the country should be dealt with firmly," the bench said in its 108-page verdict.
The top court said it may be better in many cases for the judiciary to adopt a magnanimously charitable attitude even when utterly uncharitable and unfair criticism of its operations is made out of bona fide concern for improvement.
It added that when there appears some scheme and design to bring about results which have the tendency of damaging the confidence in our judicial system and demoralize the Judges of the highest court by making malicious attacks, those interested in maintaining high standards of fearless, impartial and unbending justice will have to stand firmly.
"However, such magnanimity cannot be stretched to such an extent, which may amount to weakness in dealing with a malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack on the very foundation of the institution of the judiciary and thereby damaging the very foundation of the democracy," the top court said.
It said the summary jurisdiction of Supreme Court is required to be exercised not to vindicate the dignity and honour of the individual judge, who is personally attacked or scandalised, but to uphold the majesty of the law and of the administration of justice.
The top court would hear on August 20, the arguments on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to Bhushan in the matter.
A contemnor in this case can be punished with simple imprisonment of up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both.