Date: 8 November, 2020
by Arushi Aggarwal, UILS, Panjab University
Citation: SMC(Crl) No. 000001-/ 2020 Registered on 21-07-2020
FACTS OF THE CASE
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, on 27th and 29th June published two tweets which “targeted the Judiciary and also the Chief Justice of India” as per the complaint filed in the same matter by Mahek Maheshwari on 2nd July against the main accused.
This was followed by the Supreme Court taking suo moto cognisance of the matter and initiating contempt proceedings against two parties; the first one being Prashant Bhushan and the second one being Twitter India for unspecified tweets.
The tweet on 27th stated that “When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs.” and the tweet on 29th consisted of a photo of the present Chief Justice of India, Justice SA Bobde riding a Harley Davidson bike and read “CJI rides a 50 lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access Justice!”
Whether or not the tweets made by alleged contemnor(s) amounts to contempt of court?
Whether or not Twitter India can be held responsible for the tweets made by the contemnor?
The main arguments advanced summarily from both the respondents in were as under:
That insofar as the first tweet was concerned, it was made mainly to emphasise his disappointment at the non-physical functioning of the Supreme Court for the last three months. As far as the second tweet was concerned, it has three distinct elements, each of which was his bona fide opinion about the state of affairs in the country in the past six years and the role of the Supreme Court and in particular the role of the last 4 CJIs, that such an expression of opinion, however outspoken, disagreeable or however unpalatable to some, cannot constitute contempt of court.
That, alleged contemnor No.2, Twitter India, in reply filed on its behalf, stated, that the alleged contemnor No.2 has not authored or published the tweets in question and the same had been done by alleged contemnor No.1. That it was merely an ‘intermediary’ within the meaning as provided under the Information Technology Act, 2000. It was lastly submitted, that to show its bonafide nature, the alleged contemnor No.2, took cognizance of the disputed tweets and blocked the access to the said tweets and disabled the same.
A day prior to his hearing for sentence, Prashant Bhushan with his advocate filed an application to delay the sentence hearing or for the very least put a stay on the sentence so that a review is filed for the decision on 14th and is decided upon before the sentence is delivered. The court issued a brief order asking Prashant Bhushan to apologise unconditionally before 24th August to which Prashant Bhushan didn’t comply
After a week’s time, on 31st August, the decision came on the whole case from the Honourable Supreme Court. The court ordered a fine of ₹1 against Prashant Bhushan which he was supposed to pay before 15th September 2020, and in failure to payment of the same would result in imprisonment for three months and his appearance would be restricted for practising law before the honourable court.
The Honourable Supreme Court in its judgment completely rubbished the information and clarified that the photo taken was during the period when the Supreme Court was on a summer vacation even during which, the vacation benches were regularly functioning hence making the claim of the alleged contemnor factually incorrect in the impugned tweets. Also, the Honourable Supreme Court accepted the explanation given by alleged contemnor no.2, i.e., Twitter India and said that it had shown bona fide intention immediately after cognisance of the tweets were taken hence contemnor no. two is discharged.