Expressing “dismay” over the conviction of advocate Prashant Bhushan by the Supreme Court in a contempt of court case, over 1,500 lawyers from across the country, including senior members of the Bar, urged the top court Monday to “take corrective steps to prevent miscarriage of justice”.
In a statement, the lawyers said a Bar “silenced under the threat of contempt” will “undermine the independence and ultimately the strength” of the Supreme Court.
Among the signatories are Sriram Panchu, Arvind Datar, Shyam Divan, Menaka Guru-swamy, Raju Ramachandran, Biswajit Bhattacharya, Navroz Seervai, Janak Dwarkadas, Iqbal Chagla, Darius Khambata, Vrinda Grover, Mihir Desai, Kamini Jaiswal and Karuna Nundy.
“This judgment does not restore the authority of the court in the eyes of the public. Rather, it will discourage lawyers from being outspoken. From the days of the supersession of judges and the events thereafter, it has been the Bar that has been the first to stand in defence of the independence of the judiciary,” the statement said, adding that a “silenced” Bar “cannot lead to a strong court”.
On August 14, the bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari held Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for two tweets which it said were based on “distorted facts”, constituted a “scurrilous/ malicious… attack” on the “entire Supreme Court”, and had the effect of “destabilising the very foundation” of the judiciary. Arguments on the quantum of punishment are to be heard on August 20.
In their statement, the lawyers said: “An independent judiciary does not mean that judges are immune from scrutiny and comment. It is the duty of lawyers to freely bring any shortcomings to the notice of bar, bench and the public at large. While some of us may have divergent views on the advisability and content of Mr Prashant Bhushan’s two tweets, we are unanimously of the view that no contempt of court was intended or committed especially when contrasted with the normal standard that ‘Justice is not a cloistered virtue… She must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken comments of ordinary men’.”
“While Mr Prashant Bhushan as a lawyer of good standing of the Supreme Court, may not be an ordinary man, his tweets do not say anything out of the ordinary, other than what is routinely expressed about the court’s working in recent years by many on public fora and on social media. Even some retired judges of the Supreme Court have expressed somewhat similar views,” the statement said.
Apart from seeking that the judgment be kept in abeyance, the statement urged the Supreme Court to hold an open hearing after the pandemic by a larger bench to “review the standards of criminal contempt”.