A statement has been released by over 1300 members of the Bar addressing it to the Supreme Court and to the “public of India at large” expressing their discontent towards the conviction of Senior Advocate and an active civil rights and public interest lawyer Prashant Bhushan for contempt of court.
The statement has been signed by many eminent lawyers and members of the Bar who have been practicing for several years such as Janak Dwarkadas, Navroz H Seervai, Vrinda Grover, Dushyant Dave, Mihir Desai, Dairus Khambata, Huzefa Ahmadi, among others.
The statement begins by members of the Bar expressing their dismay over the judgment and further states that, “An independent judiciary consisting of independent judges and lawyers, is the basis of the rule of law in a Constitutional democracy”. It points out that mutual respect and the absence of coercion are the hallmarks of a harmonious relationship between the bar and bench and any tilting of the balance, one way or the other, is deleterious both to the institution and the nation.
Further delving into independence of judiciary, it states that judges are not immune from scrutiny and in fact, it is the duty of lawyers to freely bring any shortcomings to the notice of the court and the people as well. The statement further reads that the signatories were divided on the content of the two tweets posted by Bhushan but they were “unanimously of the view that no contempt of court was intended or committed”.
It also points towards a normal standard in the famous words of Lord Atkin, “Justice is not a cloistered virtue… She must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken comments of ordinary men,” which is widely followed.
It further states that Bhushan’s tweets did not say anything other than what is routinely expressed about the court’s working in recent years by many on public fora and on social media, even by some retired judges of the Supreme 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… 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,” reads the statement.
The members of the Bar have taken a stern view that the judgment must be put on hold, and the standards of criminal contempt be reviewed by a larger bench sitting in an open court, once physical functioning resumes. “We do believe that the Supreme Court will hear the Voice of the People expressed all around in last 72 hours on the subject and take corrective steps to prevent miscarriage of Justice and restore the confidence and respect that Citizens have generally reposed in it,” concludes the statement.
After the judgment holding Bhushan guilty of contempt was pronounced on the eve of India’s 74th Independence Day, many activists, members of the legal fraternity condemned it. While many found the judgement to be hardly convincing, some pointed out how it undermines freedom of speech.