No requirement for AG’s consent to initiate suo motu contempt proceedings, says SC

While convicting Bhushan for his two tweets, the apex court absolved social networking company Twitter Inc of the contempt charges.
Prashant Bhushan Lawyer
Prashant Bhushan Lawyer

New Delhi, Aug 14 : There is no requirement for the Supreme Court to take Attorney General’s consent in initiating a criminal contempt proceeding on its own as it exercises “inherent power” under the Constitution in issuing the show cause notice, the top court said Friday.

It made this observation while rejecting activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s plea that he was proceeded against without the consent of the country’s top law officer.

The top court held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt and observed that his first tweet about the Chief Justice of India S A Bobde riding a motorbike was “false, malicious and scandalous”, and his second tweet about last four CJIs in last six years levelled “scurrilous allegations” which are “malicious in nature and have the tendency to scandalize the court”.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishan Murari will hear arguments on August 20 on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to Bhushan for its contempt.

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 both.

Justice Mishra, writing the 108 page judgement for the bench, dealt with various legal arguments including the key submission of senior advocate Dushyant Dave, counsel for Bhushan, that unless there was a consent of the Attorney General for India, the suo motu (on its own) proceedings could not have been initiated on the basis of the complaint of one Mahek Maheshwari.

Referring to a recent judgement in the Vijay Kurle case, the court said the source of power of the Supreme Court for proceeding for an action of contempt is under Article 129 (apex court is the court of records) under the Constitution and this power is not limited in any manner by the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.

“As far as the suo motu petitions are concerned, there is no requirement for taking consent of anybody, including the learned Attorney General because the Court is exercising its inherent powers to issue notice for contempt.

“It is equally well settled, that once the court takes cognizance, the matter is purely between the court and the contemnor. The only requirement is that the procedure followed is required to be just and fair and in accordance with the principles of natural justice,” the top court held and rejected the submission of procedural lapse in the case.

Referring to statutory schemes, it said that the top court, being a court of records, is “vested with the constitutional powers to deal with the contempt” and a provision of the Contempt of Courts Act “is not the source of the power to issue notice for contempt”.

The bench said as far as suo motu petitions are concerned, the court can very well initiate the proceedings on the basis of information received by it and the only requirement is that the procedure as prescribed in a judgment has to be followed.

“In the present case, the notice issued to the alleged contemnors (Bhushan and Tweeter Inc) clearly mentions the tweets on the basis of which the Court is proceeding suo motu. The alleged contemnor No.1 (Bhushan) has also clearly understood the basis on which the Court is proceeding against him as is evident from the elaborate affidavit-in-reply filed by him,” the judgement said.

While convicting Bhushan for his two tweets, the apex court absolved social networking company Twitter Inc of the contempt charges.

“Insofar as the alleged contemnor No.2 (Twitter Inc) is concerned, we accept the explanation given by it, that it is only an intermediary and that it does not have any control on what the users post on the platform. It has also shown bona fides immediately after the cognizance was taken by this Court as it has suspended both the tweets. We, therefore, discharge the notice issued to the alleged contemnor No.2,” the bench said.

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