Outspoken: Navroz H Seervai on the Prashant Bhushan Judgment

In a statement given to The Law Review Anthology, Senior Advocate Navroz H Seervai said that the judgement “is an assault on free speech and expression” in the name of upholding the “dignity and majesty” of the Court in the eyes of the public.

The Supreme Court on Friday held advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court. This case was taken up suo moto by the court based on two of Bhushan’s tweets.

Read the full statement by Senior Advocate Navroz H Seervai :

“The judgment is an assault on free speech and expression in the name of upholding the “dignity and majesty” of the Court in the eyes of the public. The judgment is clearly erroneous, both in its reasoning and its analysis and interpretation of the contempt jurisdiction. However, it does not come as a surprise to those familiar with the judgments of the Supreme Court on contempt, over the years. Leading writers on Constitutional Law have commented on the Supreme Court being selective in deploying this power conferred upon it by the Constitution. The differences in the cases of P. Shiv Shankar, being the Law Minister, and [EMS] Namboodiripad or Arundhati Roy are stark.

Much more worrying is that this judgment appears to be a calculated assault on the one segment of civil society which is familiar with what happens in Court, and the conduct of judges in and out of Court, namely members of the legal profession. It is these members who can speak to the goings-on in the judiciary with a degree of intimacy that others lack. The judgment will have a chilling effect on free speech generally, and that appears to be its intent, but it is also intended to send out a strong message to the legal profession, by making an example of Prashant Bhushan for daring to exercise his fundamental right to freedom of speech.

The tragedy for the country is that this will, in all probability, succeed—both in its intention and effect. The judgment will be cited as precedent by the Court to protect an institution that knows that its conduct and its position lays it open to adverse comment and criticism across the spectrum of civil society, as happened recently in its initial response to the migrant crisis. That is something that the Court clearly cannot tolerate, despite all its protestations to the contrary.”

The tweets in question were critical of the top court and posted by Bhushan on Twitter on June 27 and June 29. The June 27 tweet said, “When historians in future look back at the last 6 years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the Supreme Court in this destruction, & more particularly the role of the last 4 CJIs.”

The June 29 tweet included a photo of CJI S.A. Bobde riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and said, “CJI rides a 50 lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access Justice!”

The top court had earlier stated that it is of the prima facie view that the statements brought the administration of justice “in disrepute and are capable of undermining the dignity and authority of the Institution of Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of public at large”.

Photo Credits: Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times

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