Senior journalist N Ram, former BJP minister Arun Shourie and lawyer Prashant Bhushan have moved the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the contempt law, which deals with criminal contempt on the pretext of scandalising or lowering the authority of courts.
According to Livelaw, the petition filed through lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, read, “The impugned sub-section is unconstitutional as it is incompatible with preambular values and basic feature of the Constitution. It violates Article 1 (a), is unconstitutional and incurably vague, and is manifestly arbitrary.”
The development comes just days before the Supreme Court is expected to hear a contempt case against Bhushan for his tweets criticising the Supreme Court and past Chief Justices of India in his tweets for their alleged role in compromising the impartiality of the judiciary. The Supreme Court had come down heavily on Twitter for not removing Bhushan’s tweets. The microblogging site had later blocked the two tweets posted by the noted lawyer.
The petitioners have argued in their petition that the current provision of the contempt law has failed the test of over-breadth, abridged the right to free speech and expression in the absence of ‘real and tangible’ harm and created a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech and expression.
According to a report by Bar and Bench, the petition filed by Ram, Shourie and Bhushan argued, “Even if it the sub-section under challenge was permitted under the head of contempt in the ‘reasonable restrictions’ listed in Article 19 (2), it is still disproportionate and unreasonable.”
“That the impugned sub-section has an extremely wide import and is incapable of objective interpretation and even-handed application. For instance, a mere interrogation by a traffic constable about whether the red beacon on the hood of a judge’s car was authorised was held to be contempt on the grounds of “scandalising the court”,” the petitioners argued.
The Supreme Court is also hearing another contempt case registered in 2009 against Bhushan and Tarun Tejpal, the former Editor of Tehelka magazine.
In April this year, the Supreme Court had seen an interesting exchange of words between Bhushan and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul on the erosion of faith in the Indian judiciary. This was during the hearing on the movement of migrant workers amidst the nationwide lockdown. Bhushan, who was appearing on behalf of the petitioners, had argued that the central government was not enforcing the fundamental rights of migrant workers, who remained stuck in various parts of the country during the lockdown period.
But before the hearing could commence, Justice Kaul had asked Bhushan, “You don’t have faith on us. How can we hear you? An order can always be criticised.”
Bhushan had replied, “I have never said that I have no faith in this institution. I only expressed my views. Some retired judges are also saying the same thing. The court is accepting whatever the government is stating without verifying.”
The questionable role of the Supreme Court has been dominating social media conversations in the last few years.