The judgment of a division bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Arun Mishra holding the tweets of civil rights lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan as
Contempt of court is most unfortunate. It will have serious repercussions on the right to freedom of expression from which the freedom of the press flows and the right to criticism, an essential component of the freedom.
It may be noted that several former judges of the apex court, even the Attorney General of India, considered to be the first officer of the court, urged the bench to take a liberal and broader view, but it did not find favour with the bench.
The Indian Express editorially commented on the judgment thus: “the order can, and will, be read as the Supreme Court showing a thin skin and wielding the offense of contempt to constrict the fundamental freedom of expression.
The court also sends a chilling message that criticism could carry a high cost by leaving an impression of heavy-handed use of a blunt instrument against an individual citizen. A citizen who has a record of standing up and showing the mirror. Clearly, the SC has not heeded, as it has done earlier, its duty to be magnanimous, and to display the higher tradition of the higher courts – of “majestic liberalism”.
The Hindu editorially added, “There is some inadvertent irony in the Court’s claim that allowing Mr. Bhushan’s remarks to go unpunished would lower the country’s image in the comity of nations. The highest court built its stalwart fame on stellar judgments and record of fearless independence. If at all it falls in the estimation of the world now, it may only be because of a growing perception of judicial evasion, self-imposed reticence and quiet acquiescence in the face of executive power”.
Advanced countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom, whose jurisprudence we follow, have decriminalized Contempt of Court provisions in recent years. As a matter of fact, the UK Law Commission in a report in 2012 opined that ‘the offense of scandalising the court’ infringed on freedom of expression and recommended that it should be dropped from the contempt statute, which was subsequently implemented by the UK Parliament.
Let us hope a larger bench of the apex court before whom the case is certain to come on appeal, will take a broader view and help the freedom of expression, freedom of the press and other democratic rights, which are under the considerable strain of late, to flourish.
Source: Scribe News