On August 6, a petition by advocate Prashant Bhushan challenging the constitutional validity of Contempt of Courts Act was placed before a bench of Supreme Court justices D Y Chandrachud and K M Joseph. The bench is scheduled to hear the matter on 10th August. But now the choice of the bench by the registry has come under question, as it bypassed a norm of similar cases being tabled at the same court.
According to legal journalist Utkash Anand, officials of the Supreme Court Registry are in the dock for listing the case before the bench comprising Court justices D Y Chandrachud and K M Joseph, when similar matters are already pending begore the court of Justice Arun Mishra. According to Anand, explanations have been sought from the registry officials for flouting court rules.
Officials in the #SupremeCourt Registry are in dock over listing the petition by Prashant Bhushan, N Ram & Shourie before a bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud on 10th while similar matters were pending before Justice Arun Mishra.— Utkarsh Anand (@utkarsh_aanand) August 8, 2020
Explanations have been sought for flouting rules https://t.co/XM0fEqCJIT
Following this, the matter has now been deleted from the bench headed by Justice Chandrachud.
On August 1, Prashant Bhushan, along with Arun Shourie and N Ram had filed a petition at the Supreme Court, challenging the section 2(c)(i) of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. This section criminalises the offence of ‘scandalizing the court’. Bhuhan had moved to question to law after the Supreme Court had used this section to issue a notice to him for his tweets against the Chief Justice of India.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had heard the suo moto case against Prashant Bhushan on contempt of court charges for his tweets against the CJI on 27th June and 29th June. Bhushan and the two petitioners questioned the constitutional validity of the sub-section (i) of section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act, arguing that it violates right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. “It is unconstitutional as it is incompatible with the preambular values and basic features of the constitution,” the petition said.
The bench by Justice Arun Mishra had issued the notice to Prashant Bhushan for Contempt of Court. Moreover, the same justice is already hearing another case against Bhushan for another charge of Contempt of Court. The other case pertains to a case filed against the lawyer in 2010 for an interview he had given to the Tehelka magazine.
In an interview with the Soma Chowdhury of Tehelka in September 2009, Prashant Bhushan had insinuated that Justice Sarosh Homi Kapadia had committed ‘judicial impropriety’ by being a part of the forest Bench that heard the Niyamgiri Mining lease in Orissa and ruled in favour of Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite industries. After this, a contempt plea was moved against him by Harish Salve. Salve also helped the court as ‘amicus curiae’ in the matter. The decade-old contempt of court case against Prashan Bhushan has recently revived the Supreme Court, and it was listed before a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari.
As the bench of Justice Arun Mishra is already hearing related to contempt of court by Prashan Bhushan, according to the norms of the Supreme Court, Bhuhan’s petition against the law should also have been listed before the same court. But the registry officials had listed the matter with a different court, and now they will have to explain the reasons behind the “wrongful” listing of the matter.
Aa senior officer in the Supreme Court said, “as per practice and procedure in use, the said matter should have been listed before the bench which is already seized with similar matters but it has been listed ignoring established practice and procedure. In this regard, explanations of concerned officials have been called.”
Crusade of Prashant Bhushan against Justice Arun Mishra
Bypassing the court of justice Arun Mishra by the registry officials in listing Prashant Bhushan’s petition had raised eyebrows, because Bhushan has been openly critical of the Supreme Court Justice. In February this year, Bhushan had criticised Justice Mishra for praising PM Narendra Modi at an event.
Before that in the same month, Bhushan had attacked Mishra in a series of tweets because Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and other top BJP politicians were present at a family event of Justice Mishra’s son-in-law. In October last year, he had shared an article saying that Justice Arun Mishra has severely dented faith in the impartiality of the SC.
In 2017, Prashan Bhushan had posted a photograph of Justice Mishra with then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Justice Arun Mishra was hearing the Sahara-Birla diary case, where Chauhan was alleged to one of the recipients of money. Bhushan had tweeted that Chauhan had got Rs 10 crores. He alleged Justice Mishra of collusion with BJP leaders after a bench headed by Justice Mishra had dismissed his plea to order a probe on the basis of ‘Sahara Bira Diaries’. The court had noted there not enough evidence to order an enquiry, where Bhushan had alleged that when Narendra Modi was CM of Gujarat, he had received at least Rs 40 crore from the companies.
In March last year, Prashant Bhushan had admitted that he had committed a “genuine mistake” by claiming that the Central government had placed fabricated documents in SC on the appointment of interim CBI director. He had filed an application seeking the recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from hearing a contempt petition filed against him by K.K. Venugopal. Attorney general KK Venugopal had accused Bhushan of exercising vindictiveness and recklessness while tweeting about the appointment of interim CBI director M Nageshwar Rao. Justice Arun Mishra was on the bench hearing the contempt petition, and Bhushan had sought his recusal from the case, but the justice had refused to do so.