The applicants, through Advocate Prasanna S, have stated that expressing opinion about functioning of the constitutional judiciary or any other public institution is a constitutionally guaranteed right.
“In the past few years, serious questions have been raised about the reluctance of the Supreme Court to play its constitutionally mandated role as a check on governmental excesses and violations of fundamental rights of people by the state…
The initiation of contempt proceedings against Mr. Bhushan who had articulated some of these concerns in his tweets, appears to be an attempt at stifling such criticism, not just by Prashant Bhushan but by all stakeholders in the Indian democratic and constitutional setup. We believe the institution must address these genuine concerns,” the statement read.
With this the initiation of contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his tweets criticizing the judiciary has a ‘chilling effect’ on the right to exercise freedom of speech and violates the rights enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, they have said.
They have urged the top court to allow debate and discussion regarding its functioning without those expressing their honest opinion fearing “retribution” of criminal contempt.
It is pointed out that most functioning democracies such as the USA and the UK have circumscribed the concept of criminal contempt and even the Indian courts should interpret the provision, Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, keeping with the ‘march of the law’.
Last week, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra issued notice to advocate Prashant Bhushan, asking him to show cause as to why contempt of court proceedings should not be initiated against him over his tweets on judiciary.
On Monday, Bhushan responded to the notice stating that bonafide criticism of the manner and the functioning of the Supreme Court, ‘however outspoken, undesirable and unpalatable’ it is, cannot constitute contempt of court.
Earlier, former judges, former senior government officials, ambassadors, activists and academics had also expressed solidarity with Bhushan and they said that initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against him, over his tweets on judiciary amounts to “stifling criticism”.