Unidentified officials in the Supreme Court on Tuesday clarified that no suo motu contempt case proceedings have been initiated against journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, reported Live Law. They said that the status of the case seen on the Supreme Court website as Suo Moto Case(Criminal) 2/2020 (the case against Sardesai) was placed “inadvertently”.
Appropriate action to rectify the same is under process, they said. Earlier in the day, the website showed that the Supreme Court has registered a suo motu contempt case against Sardesai for his tweets about the judiciary.
The complaint in question was filed by petitioner Aastha Khurana. The contempt case was registered five months after Attorney General KK Venugopal refused to initiate criminal proceedings against Sardesai on the basis of the same complaint. Following Venugopal’s decision in September, the petitioner filed the case in the Supreme Court, which was seen as registered as a suo motu complaint on the website.
The petitioner referred to the journalist’s tweets from July and August.
The tweets from August pertain to remarks on the contempt case of lawyer Prashant Bhushan, where Bhushan was fined Re 1. On August 31, Sardesai had taken a dig at the Supreme Court’s decision to fine Bhushan Re 1, saying that the court wanted to avoid an “embarrassing” situation it had created for itself. Another Sardeasai’s tweet on August 14 compared the verdict in Bhushan’s case to the habeas corpus petitions of those detained in Jammu and Kashmir.
The tweet from July was about former Supreme Court Justice Arun Mishra, who had heard Bhushan’s contempt case, reported Bar & Bench. The tweet, posted on July 23, allegedly cast aspersions on Mishra, according to Live Law. Although the tweet was deleted, the petitioner claimed that it had received “huge media publicity” and raised questions on the “fairness of the court”.
In the complaint to the Supreme Court, Khurana submitted that Sardesai not only questioned the credibility of the court’s verdict in the Bhushan contempt case, but he had also made comments on former judges and chief justices of India. The India Today anchor also tried to teach judges their duties and responsibilities, it said.
“Such attacks on this Hon’ble Court is not a freedom of speech and expression, but it has done purposely in order to defame and disrespect the image of the Court,” the petitioner contended.
Khurana had, in the complaint to Venugopal, claimed that Sardesai’s tweets criticising the verdict in the contempt case against Bhushan were a “cheap publicity stunt”.
The attorney general had replied to Khurana that Sardesai’s tweets were not of a serious nature. “The reputation of the Supreme Court as one of the great pillars of our democracy has been built assiduously over the last 70 years,” Venugopal had said. “Trifling remarks and mere passing criticism though perhaps distasteful are unlikely to tarnish the image of the institution.”
The consent of the attorney general or the solicitor general is required before the Supreme Court can hear a criminal contempt petition filed by a private individual, according to Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act and Rule 3 of Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of Supreme Court.
However, there has been exceptions to this.
The Supreme Court had registered the contempt case against Bhushan without Venugopal’s approval. The case against Bhushan was based on two tweets from June. In one tweet, he made a remark about an undeclared emergency and the role of the Supreme Court and last four chief justices of India. The second tweet was about Chief Justice SA Bobde trying a Harley Davidson superbike in his hometown Nagpur during the coronavirus outbreak.