The Supreme Court on February 6, 2019, issued a contempt notice against activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan. The notice has been issued after Attorney General KK Venugopal and the Central Government represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta filed two different contempt petitions against Bhushan for his tweets which alleged that the Central Government had misled the Supreme Court into falsely believing that the three-member panel had approved the appointment of M. Nageshwar Rao as the interim Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and had made fabricated minutes of the meeting to that effect. The petition of the Attorney General stated that Bhushan was guilty of contempt as he made the tweets when petitions against the appointment of Mr Rao as an interim Director were pending in court.
Although the Attorney General stated that his intention behind the petition was not to get Bhushan punished, he stated that the court should decide on the larger issue of discussion of pending matters in the courts in public, especially by media persons and lawyers. On the other hand, Solicitor General Mehta disagreed stating that “The Attorney General is magnanimous. But the Centre wants Bhushan punished as this is not the first instance he has done this.”
Mr Bhushan, who was also present for the hearing, requested the Court for a three weeks time to reply to the notice. He was represented by Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave.
The Bench comprising Justices Navin Sinha and Arun Mishra granted Bhushan the said three-weeks to file his response. It also noted that “Contempt is a bramhastra, it should not be used ordinarily” while stating that very serious situations may warrant such action to be necessary.
It is to be noted that this is not the first time a contempt petition has been filed against the eminent advocate when he made comments in the media about Sahara Birla Payoffs case and Judge Loya case.
- Article 129 and 215 of the Constitution of India empowers the Supreme Court and High Court respectively to punish people for their respective contempt. The same was upheld in Bar Association v. Union of India & Anr, (1998) 4 SCC 409.
- Section 2 (c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971 defines Criminal Contempt as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which—
(i) scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
(ii) prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
(iii) interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner;
- Section 12 of the Act states that a person guilty of contempt may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both.
- It has become commonplace for lawyers and media to discuss political cases which are sub judice. The Court, in this case, has identified the need for clear cut guidelines as to, if and to what extent such cases can be discussed by the media and the members of the bar.
- Until now Section 2(c)(i) of the Act has been the reason for many contempt petitions against lawyers and media persons as the courts have opined that such comments or criticism might affect the authority of the court or public perception. However, this aspect is disputed as most developed countries allow such a discussion and not discussing pending cases is a matter of ethics and preferences and not a matter of law for media and lawyers.
 Vaidyanathan, and Anindita Sanyal. “‘Contempt A Bramhastra,” Says Top Court, Gives Notice To Prashant Bhushan.” NDTV.com, NDTV, 6 Feb. 2019, www.ndtv.com/india-news/lawyer-prashant-bhushan-gets-notice-in-contempt-petitions-over-cbi-tweets-1989116.
 Common Cause v. Union of India, (2017) 11 SCC 747
 Mandhani, Apoorva. “Contempt Petition In SC Against Prashant Bhushan On His Comments About Loya Case Judgment.” Live Law, Livelaw, 10 Aug. 2018 www.livelaw.in/contempt-petition-in-sc-against-prashant-bhushan-on-his-comments-about-loya-case-judgment/
Tehseen Poonawalla vs. Union of India, Writ Petition (C) No 19 of 2018.