The Supreme Court would hear on August 13, the plea filed by former union minister Arun Shourie, veteran journalist N Ram and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan in which they have challenged the constitutional validity of a legal provision dealing with criminal contempt. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, who is already dealing with two separate contempt cases against Bhushan, will hear the fresh plea on Thursday.
The petition was earlier listed for hearing before another bench of the top court for August 10. Later, it was deleted from the list of business. According to the reliable sources of the top court, along with the fresh petition, Shourie, Ram and Bhushan has also moved an application seeking stay on the proceedings in the two contempt cases pending against the activist lawyer.
"It is a matter of fact that these two petitions are pending before the bench of Justice Arun Mishra. That being so these petitions should have been listed before the same bench," the sources said. The sources further said, "It is a cardinal principle of law that a coordinate bench cannot stay the proceedings or on-going cases which are pending before other similar bench. This would have created a problem as one court cannot stay the proceedings of other court having the same jurisdiction".
On August 8, the apex court administration had called for an explanation from officials concerned over the listing of the plea before another bench of the top court comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and K M Joseph for August 10. "As per the practice and procedure in use, the said matter should have been listed before the bench which is already seized of the similar matter, but it has been listed by ignoring established practice and procedure", the sources said.
In this regard, explanation from officials concerned has been called," the sources had said on August 8. In their petition, Shourie, Ram and Bhushan have challenged the constitutional validity of a legal provision dealing with criminal contempt for "scandalizing the court", saying it was violative of the freedom of speech and the right to equality.
The petition has challenged the validity of Section 2(1)(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 as being vague, unconstitutional and incompatible with the basic features of the Constitution. The provision defines what constitutes criminal contempt and says that if by way of publication of words, the dignity of the courts is lowered and if they scandalize the courts then the offence of contempt of court is deemed to have been committed.
The petition alleged the provision violated the freedom of speech and expression. The filing of the plea challenging the validity of the provision assumed significance in view of the fact that a three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra on July 22 had issued a show cause notice to Bhushan after taking note of a petition urging it to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against him for his alleged tweets against the judiciary.
The apex court had on August 5 reserved its verdict on the suo motu contempt case against Bhushan. The top court is also seized of another criminal contempt case against Bhushan which was initiated in 2009 over his alleged comments against former CJIs in an interview given to a magazine.
The top court on Monday also said further hearing was required in the 2009 criminal contempt case against Bhushan and journalist Tarun Tejpal to examine whether comments on "corruption" against judges per se amounted to contempt or not.