Bhushan cites 2018 press meet, SC hopes its last time judges go to press

Prashant Bhushan, Photo: IANS

New Delhi, Aug 31 : As advocate Prashant Bhushan, defending his expression of opinion through tweets, cited the press conference held by sitting apex court judges in January 2018, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed his argument, saying it is settled that negative equality cannot be claimed as there is no such concept.

A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari said: “We hope it was the first and the last occasion that the judges have gone to press, and god gives wisdom to protect its dignity by an internal mechanism, particularly, when allegations made, if any, publicly cannot be met by sufferer judges. It would cause suffering to them till eternity.”

The apex court said Bhushan tried to justify the averments he made on the basis of the press conference held by the four senior-most judges of the court.

“Concept of equality before law… what is permissible, not as to what is impermissible. It is settled that negative equality cannot be claimed as there is no concept of negative equality,” said the bench.

The top court said truth can be a defence to the judges also, but they are bound by judicial norms, ethics, and code of conduct. “Similarly, the code of conduct for advocates is equally applicable to the lawyers also, being part of the system. The Rules of Professional Ethics formed by the Bar Council, though couched under statutory powers, are themselves not enough to prescribe or proscribe the nobility of profession in entirety. The nobility of profession encompasses, over and above, the Rules of Ethics,” observed the top court.

The bench said that fair criticism is based on the authentic and acceptable material permissible, but when criticism tends to create apprehension in the minds of the people regarding integrity, ability and fairness of the judge, it amounts to contempt. “Such criticism is not protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” said the bench.

Former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who was then a judge, and Justices Madan B. Lokur, Jasti Chelameswar and Kurian Joseph, held an unprecedented press conference on January 12, 2018, where they alleged that then Chief Justice Dipak Misra was violating conventions. All four judges have retired now.

The Supreme Court has imposed a token fine of Re 1 on Bhushan, convicted in a contempt case for tweets against the judiciary, which if he failed to deposit by September 15, will entail a penalty of 3 months in jail and the senior advocate will be barred from practicing law for three years.

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