‘Seems lawyers out with daggers’: Supreme Court on Prashant Bhushan contempt case
The Supreme Court said the issue brought before them concerned the legal profession and responsibility of lawyers towards the institution.Updated: Feb 07, 2019 08:20 IST
The Supreme Court issued notice to Prashant Bhushan on a contempt petition filed against him by Attorney General KK Venugopal over his tweets accusing the government of misleading the judges in a case related to appointment of M Nageswara Rao as CBI’s interim director.
Interestingly, a bench of justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha said it would not confine itself to the alleged contempt committed by Bhushan but would deliberate on whether advocates should participate in television debates or even write articles on matters pending before the court, raising issues of freedom of expression and transparency. Venugopal, however, said he wasn’t looking for any punishment for Bhushan.
The judges said the issue brought before them concerned the legal profession and responsibility of lawyers towards the institution. “Freedom (to speak) comes with a responsibility. It is the duty of the bar to protect judiciary. But, now it seems the bar is out with daggers to kill the judiciary,” the judges remarked. They were scathing with their observations against advocates who “appear on TV shows” and criticize judges and judiciary even as their cases await a final decision.
“Who will back our independence when bar behaves like this? All kinds of allegations are made in the petitions and then they are withdrawn before we deal with them. We are really worried about what’s going on these days,” the court said.
Advocate Apar Gupta admitted that some lawyers make public statements on their cases. “However given that the Supreme Court increasingly deals with issues which are not only of public interest but also concerns areas of policy for the nation, it becomes inevitable for lawyers who are best placed and know the facts to comment on them publicly. In think such comments furthers transparency and involves the public in a conversation,” he added. According to Gupta, there is no “clear prohibition in law” about lawyers speaking out, but “ there are certain proprietary conventions that have been maintained over the years”.
Bhushan who was present in the court accepted the notice but refused to make any submission. It fixed March 9 to hear the matter again. But the bench refused to go into the question of having a transparent process to select a CBI chief and asked Bhushan to approach competent authority under RTI if he wants to have details on the selection process.
Justice Sinha said a difference has to be established between the right of the public to know and the media debates. “There is no problem when a lawyer goes and gives facts of the case. However, the question is whether comments can be made on cases even before the decision comes.”
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta pressed for a strong punishment against Bhushan. “I would request punishment and a deterrent punishment,” Mehta insisted. He contended advocates were making subjective partisan statements designed to bring disrepute to the institution.
Defending the right to speech, Supreme Court advocate Viplav Sharma said: “Any person including advocates is free to comment on issues happening in the country and outside. However, when making such statement they should ideally qualify it saying that it is their own opinion and made on the basis of the knowledge they have. I believe that such freedom of expression should not be curbed as a dialogue on any issue pending before the judiciary or otherwise is good for democracy.”
First Published: Feb 07, 2019 00:09 IST