Activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Wednesday defended in the Supreme Court his two alleged contemptuous tweets saying they were against the judges regarding their conduct in their personal capacity and they did not obstruct administration of justice.
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishan Murari, which on July 22, had issued a show cause notice to Bhushan after initiating the criminal contempt against him for his two alleged derogatory tweets against the judiciary, reserved the verdict in the case.
"Heard the senior counsel appearing in the matter. Arguments concluded. Judgment reserved," the bench noted in the order.
While reserving the order in the contempt case, the top court dismissed a separate petition filed by Bhushan seeking recall of the July 22 order by which notice was issued against him in a contempt proceeding initiated for his alleged contemptuous tweets against the judiciary.
The bench, during the hearing, did not agree to the contention of senior advocate Dushayant Dave, representing Bhushan, that the separate plea had raised objection against the manner in which the contempt proceedings were started without the opinion of Attorney General KK Venugopal and it be sent to another bench.
Bhushan has sought a direction to declare that the apex court's secretary general has allegedly "acted unconstitutionally and illegally" in accepting a "defective contempt petition" filed against him, which was initially placed on the administrative side and later on the judicial side.
Referring to a judgement, the apex court said that it has "meticulously" followed the law in entertaining the contempt plea and it did not agree to the submission that it be sent to another bench for hearing.
"Heard the senior counsel (Dave) appearing in the matter. We do not find any ground to entertain this Writ Petition, which is, accordingly, dismissed. Pending interlocutory application(s) shall stand dismissed," it ordered.
Dave then argued for Bhushan in the contempt case and said, "two tweets were not against the institution. They are against the judges in their personal capacity regarding their conduct. They are not malicious and do not obstruct administration of justice".
"Bhushan has made immense contribution to the development of jurisprudence and there are — at least 50 judgments to his credit," he said, adding that the court has appreciated his contributions in cases like 2G scam, coal block allocation and in mining matters.
"Perhaps you would have given him 'Padma Vibhusban' for the work he did in the last 30 years," Dave said, adding that this was not the case where contempt proceedings would have been initiated.
Referring to the ADM Jabalpur case on suspension of fundamental rights during the emergency, the senior advocate said that even "extremely uncharitable" remarks against the judges were made and no contempt proceedings were made out.
In a 142-page reply affidavit, Bhushan stood by his two tweets and had said the expression of opinion, "however outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable to some", cannot constitute contempt of court.
Bhushan, in the affidavit, has referred to several apex court judgements, speeches of former and serving judges on contempt of court and the "stifling of dissent" in a democracy and his views on judicial actions in some cases.
"The respondent (Bhushan) states that the expression of his opinion however outspoken, disagreeable or however unpalatable to some, cannot constitute contempt of court. This proposition has been laid down by several judgments of the Supreme Court and in foreign jurisdictions such as Britain, USA and Canada," he submitted.
Preventing citizens from demanding accountability and reforms and advocating for the same by generating public opinion is not a ''reasonable restriction'', the affidavit had said, adding that the Article 129 cannot be pressed into service to stifle bonafide criticism.
While referring to the tweets by Bhushan, the apex court had said these statements are prima facie capable of "undermining the dignity and authority" of the institution of the Supreme Court in general and the office of Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of the public at large.
Bhushan along with former Union Minister Arun Shourie and veteran journalist N Ram have also moved the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of a legal provision, dealing with criminal contempt on the ground of "scandalizing the court", saying it was violative freedom of speech and right to equality.