These days, Prashant Bhushan is in the news as he has been accused of contempt of court and the Noble Supreme Court has found him guilty. Note that the Honorable court took merely 28 days to arrive at the decision and punish the accused, whereas issues like the 4G ban in Kashmir that affect a population of more than 50 million remains unsolved for more than a year. The Court that had refused to discharge its duties when migrants were suffering and committing suicide daily, was seen to be ultra-active when it came to Bhushan’s case. He was held guilty in connection with his tweet where he had lamented the fall of the Judiciary in the recent years to the whims of the politicians. Leave aside the hasty and quick action the court has taken in comparison to major issues like CAA, 4G ban in Kashmir, detaining of Mehbooba Mufti, the migrant crisis, and the obvious partiality it has shown the government against the activists and social workers; let us discuss this weapon of the contempt of court itself that the judiciary has been granted the authority to use without any check.
The first question that arises is: if democracy allows its citizens to criticize the government, the police, the army, the civil servants and even the President (who is legally considered the 1st citizen of the country), then why should the court and the judges be exempted from such criticism and granted protection from any comments, and given the power to charge a person with contempt of court if he dares point a finger at them. In a democracy, it is only through open criticism and public opinion that institutions are kept under check and their faulty actions or inaction brought in light. Now, if that door is closed with regards to the judicial system, how should a responsible citizen raise his concerns and seek to amend the damaged functioning of the system.
The second question is that, it is a part of human nature to err, none is exempted from that; now, if the jury errs and malfunctions, how are we supposed to correct it? The court must protect the people from the arbitrary use of power by the government, but who would protect the people from the tyranny of the courts? In other words, if the court is supervising all of us, who is supervising the court?
Nemo judex in causa sua is a Latin phrase that means, “none is a judge in his own cause.” It is a principle of natural justice that no person can judge a case in which they have an interest and was considered a fundamental of justice that, this principle is applied with regards to all the cases of every variety. Why should then the judges be given the power to give verdict in a case of which they are, undoubtedly an interested party? And how do we expect the court to be unbiased in pronouncing such a verdict? Is it logical to ask the Court to decide whether ITS OWN contempt has been done or not?
Thirdly, so many developed countries like Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Canada, etc. don’t give the court the privilege of trying a person for its contempt, nonetheless, the judiciary has thrived there, and remains to be respected and revered by the citizens. It’s quite funny that the Supreme Court of India believes it could enforce its respect for the public by such rules. In reality, it is to the contrary, trying a person for contempt of court, silencing the objecting voices, and keeping itself above all criticism, is doing away with whatever respect had remained for the court among the public. This privilege has done more harm than good to the reputation of the judiciary in India.
Lastly, it would be worth noting how the Honorable court uses this weapon solely based on its moods. Bal Thackeray alleging that the HC justice has taken a bribe of 35 lacs isn’t contempt of court, though this claim turned out to be false. It is noteworthy that the legal aid of Thackeray at that time was S. A. Bobde (the current CJI) and he appealed that such criticism of the court was healthy and necessary to keep the judges away from bribery. Shouldn’t someone remind Bobde of his earlier statement? Amit Shah said in a public speech at Kannur, “We will not mind throwing out the government if the Kerala government tries to follow the SC verdict on Sabarimala”. isn’t contempt of court either, but a person associated with the judiciary for more than 30 years and knowing in detail the drawbacks of Indian courts tries to highlight their partial nature based on facts, and he is found guilty of contempt.
Voice has to be raised against this tyranny of the courts. The injustice isn’t towards Prashant Bhushan alone, it is towards every responsible citizen of India. Allowing the court to initialize proceedings for its own contempt, giving the verdict in a case, of which it is an interested party and making it the sole review authority has made this privilege a tyrannous tool to suppress the dissenting voice. The Honorable court must know that it can’t compel the people to respect it by using such privileges. Respect is earned through impartial and unbiased service to the nation, not through the threat of trying the activists for contempt.