The Supreme Court initiated suo moto criminal contempt proceedings against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Twitter India, on the basis of two tweets posted by Bhushan on the social media platform.
On 29 June 2020, advocate Prashant Bhushan published a tweet about the Chief Justice of India, accompanied by a picture of CJI Bobde on a motorcycle.
Mahek Maheshwari, represented by advocate Anuj Saxena, filed a petition against Bhushan and Twitter India on 2 July, requesting the court to initiate contempt proceedings for the tweet, alleging that it 'inspired a feeling of no-confidence' in the independence of the judiciary and amounted to 'scandalizing the court'.
On 21 July, the SC took suo moto cognizance of the petition and initiated contempt proceedings against both Bhushan and Twitter India for unspecified tweets published by the former on the latter’s platform. The matter was listed for hearing on 22 July.
The Court’s order of 22 July cited two tweets as the basis for the proceedings: one published on 27 June 2020, which attributed responsibility to the Supreme Court in 'destructing' India's democracy for the past six years. The other was the tweet of 29 June, which had been the subject of Maheshwari’s petition.
The bench took the prima facie view that the statements brought the administration of justice into disrepute and were capable of undermining the authority of the institutions of the Court – particularly the Chief Justice – in the eyes of the public. In this regard, it issued notice to Bhushan and to the Attorney General of India KK Venugopal, requesting the latter to assist the Court in this matter.
In response, Bhushan filed a writ petition requesting the SC to recall the contempt notice issued against him. He argued that the original petition which had led to the SC taking suo moto cognizance was defective because it had not been sanctioned by the Attorney General as required by Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 and Rule 3(c) of the Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of the Supreme Court, 1975.
On 5 August the Court heard in length arguments from Sr. Adv. Dushyant Dave, who represented Bhushan, and Sr. Adv. Sajan Poovayya, who represented Twitter India. On 14 August, the Court held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt. The Court was slated to hear Bhushan's arguments on sentencing on 20 August.
On 19 August, Bhushan filed an application to defer the sentencing hearing. The Court heard Sr. Adv. Dushyant Dave and Sr. Adv. Rajeev Dhavan on 20 August on deferral and sentencing. It issued a brief order seeking Bhushan to apologise unconditionally before 24 August.
On 24 August, Prashant Bhushan filed a supplementary statement, where he noted: 'If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem'. On 25 August the Court heard Attorney-General K.K Venugopal and Sr. Adv. Rajeev Dhavan on the effect of this statement, and reserved its order on sentencing in the meantime.
A week later, on 31 August, the Court fined Bhushan INR 1. He is required to pay this before 15 September 2020. Further, in the event of non-compliance Bhushan would be punished with 3 months imprisonment and debarred from practising law for 3 years.
1. Whether Prashant Bhushan’s tweets on 27 and 29 June 2020 amounted to criminal contempt of court?