In an uncommon move, a petition challenging the contempt law was deleted from the Supreme Court’s causelist for not assigning it to a bench that was hearing a related case, Live Law reported on Saturday.
The petition, filed by former Union Minister Arun Shourie, senior journalist N Ram and advocate Prashant Bhushan, was listed before Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph. The plea, filed on August 1, was listed for hearing before the top court bench on August 10, according to an advance causelist.
The Supreme Court pulled up its officers for not listing the matter before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra, which is hearing a contempt case against Bhushan. “As per the practice and procedure in use, the said matter should have been listed before the Bench which is already seized with a similar matter, but it has been listed by ignoring the established practice and procedure,” unidentified officials were quoted as saying by the website. “In this regard, the explanations of concerned officials have been called.”
After the officials were questioned about the error, the petition was removed from the Supreme Court’s causelist for August 10, according to Bar and Bench.
Former Supreme Court judge Ruma Pal told Bar and Bench that the case could have been listed before any bench. “When there is a constitutional challenge, Article 145 comes into the picture which necessarily means that the petition needs to be heard by a bench of five judges, so in that case, whether Justice Arun Mishra or Justice Chandrachud, it makes no difference,” she said. “However, these two matters are not similar matters at all and thus it can be listed before any other bench.”
In their plea, Shourie, Bhushan and N Ram had argued that the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, was against the basic structure of the Constitution. They said that parts of the act “have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression” as guaranteed by the Constitution, and asked the Supreme Court to quash these provisions. “...By criminalising criticism of the court in sweeping and absolute terms, the impugned sub-section raises a prior restraint on speech on matters of public and political importance,” the petitioners said.
Bhushan is currently facing two contempt cases in the Supreme Court. One case is 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. The second case is about Bhushan’s alleged objectionable remarks against Supreme Court judges in an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009.