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'Thin line between free speech and contempt': Supreme Court tells Prashant Bhushan


Progress in the case:

  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday concluded arguments in the 2009 contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan.
  • The hearing was conducted in-camera with the bench of three judges led by Justice Arun Mishra speaking to senior lawyers Rajeev Dhavan, Kapil Sibal and Harish Salve individually on WhatsApp video call.
  • Dhavan appeared for Bhushan while Sibal represented former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal, who is also named in the contempt case initiated by Salve.

What is the case about?

  • The case pertains to an interview given by Bhushan to Tehelka where he alleged that half of past 16 chief justices of India (CJIs) were corrupt. The bench said that there is a thin line between free speech and contempt.
  • The judges told Dhavan that they seek to balance the right to free speech on one hand and the need to protect the dignity of the judiciary as an institution.
  • The top court had said in the last hearing that it is giving some time to the counsels appearing in the matter to prepare and had posted the matter for hearing on August 4.

History of the case:

  • The apex court in November 2009, had issued contempt notice to Bhushan and Tejpal for allegedly casting aspersions on some sitting and former top court judges in an interview to Tehelka. Tejpal was the editor of the magazine.
  • On July 22, the same bench had issued suo moto (on its own) notice to Bhushan for his remarks and two alleged derogatory tweets against the judiciary, observing his statements prima facie “brought the administration of justice in disrepute”.
  • In his reply to the court’s notice, Bhushan said the expression of opinion, “however outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable to some”, cannot constitute contempt of court.
  • In a 142-page reply affidavit filed through lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, the activist lawyer has referred to several apex court judgements, speeches of former and serving judges on contempt of court and the “stifling of dissent” in a democracy and his views on judicial actions in some cases.
  • Bhushan also stood by his two tweets.
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Published in Constitutional Law
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