New Delhi: The Supreme Court today let off senior advocate Prashan Bhushan with a penalty of Re 1. Bhushan was held guilty of “criminal contempt” earlier this month for criticising Justice of India S.A. Bobde and the top court over their alleged failure to uphold fundamental rights and protect dissent.Pronouncing the order on the quantum of sentence on Monday, a Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra observed that Court’s decisions cannot be influenced by publications or opinions in the media. The Court remarked that Bhushan’s statements to press even before they were considered by this Court was to influence the proceedings.Bhushan is to pay the penalty of Re 1 by September 15. The Court has held that if Bhushan fails to pay the penalty he will be sentenced to three months in jail and barred from practice for three years.In two Twitter posts, Bhushan had criticised the CJI for appearing in public without a mask at a time when physical hearings had been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and also blamed the court for destroying democracy in the last few years. Earlier this month a three-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra, and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari, said the tweets were based on were based on distorted facts and amounted to “criminal contempt”. The scurrilous/malicious attacks by the alleged contemnor No.1 are not only against one or two judges but the entire Supreme Court in its functioning of the last six years. Such an attack, which tends to create disaffection and disrespect for the authority of this court, cannot be ignored.” The bench discharged the US-based microblogging platform, which had immediately suspended his tweets after the court objection. “… so far as alleged contemnor No 2 is concerned, we accept the explanation… that it is only an intermediary and … does not have any control on what users post on the platform. It has also showed bona fides immediately after cognizance was taken… as it suspended both the tweets,” it said. The bench had rejected Bhushan’s arguments that the tweets were part of his right to free speech and was a bona fide criticism of the court. It also rejected his arguments that the tweets were only against the present CJI and the past three CJIs in their individual capacity and not calculated to interfere with the course of justice.The court said that the first tweet gave the impression that the CJI had shut down the courts, denying litigants access to justice. “… the statement that the court is in lockdown is factually incorrect…. It is common knowledge that on account of Covid-19 pandemic the physical functioning of the court was required to be suspended…. However, immediately after suspension of physical hearing, the court started functioning through video conferencing.” Such a wild allegation that gives an impression that the CJI is enjoying riding an expensive bike while he keeps the court in lockdown mode and thereby denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice, is false, malicious and scandalous, it said.
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