Day 1 Arguments: 05 August 2020
The Supreme Court initiated suo moto criminal contempt proceedings against Advocate Prashant Bhushan and Twitter India, based on two tweets posted by Bhushan on Twitter, an online social media platform.
In today’s hearing Sr. Adv. Dushyant Dave represented Prashant Bhushan and Sr. Adv. Sajan Poovayya represented Twitter India.
Bhushan makes Procedural Pleas
Sr. Adv. Dushyant Dave’s first plea was for the Court to take up item no. 17 of the cause list along with the current hearing. Item no. 17 referred to a writ petition filed by Bhushan to challenge the procedural lapses on the part of the Supreme Court’s Registry in placing his contempt petition.
Further, Dave insisted that the petition in item no. 17 must be listed before a different bench. The judges were not convinced of this and refused to hear the cases together or move the writ petition to a different bench.
Noting the significance of the case for the life and liberty of Prashant Bhushan, Dave argued that the current case merited a ‘detailed personal hearing’. The Justices refused to wait until the physical hearings resumed and asked Dave to argue on merits.
The Free Speech Argument
Dave noted that the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 cannot be restricted through contempt law. He further noted that the right to make a fair comment in public interest does not amount to contempt of court. He went on to clarify that Bhushan’s tweets were not intended to obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice. Instead, it was a personal remark directed at J. Bodbe.
Looking back at an Indian Express article which not only criticised the ADM Jabalpur judgment but also harshly commented on the judges, Dave reminded the Court that contempt proceedings were not initiated in that instance.
Referring to a more contemporary instance, Dave highlighted the unprecedented press conference by the sitting judges of the Supreme Court, in which the judges criticised the Supreme Court’s administration and the-then Chief Justice of India. Even in that instance, the judges did not face contempt cases.
Twitter as an Intermediary
Sr. Adv. Sajan Poovayya, in his brief submission, pointed out that over 50 crore tweets get published every day, and Twitter as an intermediary platform does not control the quality of the tweets. He further pointed out that, in light of the current proceedings, Twitter has withheld Bhushan’s tweets in question.
The Court has reserved its orders.
(The report relied on contributions from Vikhyat Oberoi, advocate based in Delhi.)