The Supreme Court on Tuesday told advocate Prashant Bhushan that there was a “thin line” between contempt and freedom of speech, Live Law reported. The top court was hearing a contempt case against the advocate from 2009.
Bhushan had allegedly made some objectionable remarks against Supreme Court judges in an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009. The contempt of court case against him was filed by advocate Harish Salve.
The top court bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, told Bhushan’s lawyer Rajeev Dhavan that there should be a balance between the right to free speech on one hand and the need to safeguard the dignity of the judiciary, according to Hindustan Times. “We are all for freedom of speech and then there’s contempt,” Mishra was quoted as saying by Live Law. “However, there’s a thin line that you [Bhushan] may have crossed.”
On July 21, the Supreme Court initiated suo motu criminal contempt proceedings against advocate Prashant Bhushan and social media platform Twitter India. The next day, the top court issued notices to Bhushan and Attorney General KK Venugopal for the lawyer’s alleged derogatory tweets against the judiciary. The case will be heard again on August 5.
Another contempt case related to two tweets posted by him on June 27 and 29. The first tweet commented about “undeclared emergency” in India and the role of the Supreme Court and last four chief justices of India. The second tweet was about Chief Justice SA Bobde trying out a Harley Davidson superbike in his hometown Nagpur.
In a response to the notice against him, Bhushan had said on Monday that the power of contempt must not be used to stifle voices that seek accountability from a court for its errors. “To prevent a citizen from forming, holding and expressing ‘bonafide opinion’ in public interest on any institution and from ‘evaluating’ its performance is not a reasonable restriction on fundamental right to free speech,” Bhushan had said.
Bhushan had added that his tweet about the last four chief justices was his “bonafide impression” about them. He said that even though his personal views were “outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable”, they could not be counted as contempt.