On Monday, as many as 1,600 lawyers from across the country released a statement addressed to the Supreme Court and the public expressing ‘dismay’ at its recent decision that held senior advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for two of his tweets.
The statement’s signatories included prominent names such as Shyam Divan, Menaka Guruswamy, Karuna Nundy, Vrinda Grover , Janak Dwarkadas, Mihir Desai, Nihalsing Rathod, Vijay Hiremath, Sudha Ramalingam, Iqbal Chagla and Yug Chaudhry.
It said it noted with dismay the supreme court’s judgment in the case and said that an independent judiciary with independent judges and lawyers is the basis of the rule of law in a constitutional democracy.
“While some of us may have divergent views on the advisability and content of Prashant Bhushan's two tweets, we are unanimously of the view that no contempt of court was intended or committed, especially when contrasted with the normal standard that justice is not a cloistered virtue,” the statement said. It pointed out that such views have been expressed by many in the public fora and social media. Similar views were expressed by retired judges of the top court.
“This judgment does not restore the authority of the court in the eyes of the public. Rather, it will discourage lawyers from being outspoken,” it said, adding that a bar silenced under the threat of contempt will undermine the independence and ultimately the strength of the court. A silenced bar cannot lead to a strong court, it said.
The signatories also expressed ‘a deep sense of disappointment’ about the top court’s ‘utter disregard’ to seek the opinion of the Attorney General in the matter, which is mandated as per the contempt law.
Lastly, it urged that the judgment must not be given effect to, until a larger bench, sitting in open court after the pandemic has the opportunity to review the standards of criminal contempt.