Congress leader Kapil Sibal came out in defence of lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan on Saturday morning, tweeting that “contempt power (is) being used (by the courts) as a sledgehammer” and warning that history would judge the courts for “having let us down”.
Last week Mr Bhushan was held guilty of contempt for tweets on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court. Mr Bhushan, who said he had been “grossly misunderstood”, also said the tweets were an attempt to discharge his highest duty.
An unimpressed Supreme Court gave Mr Bhushan up to three days “to reconsider” his statement and sought an unconditional apology by August 24.
This morning Kapil Sibal, who is also a senior lawyer and has argued before the top court, tweeted: “Contempt power being used as a sledgehammer…”
“Why are Courts helpless when institutions that need to protect the constitution and the laws show “open contempt” for both? Larger issues are at stake… History will judge the Court for having let us down,” Mr Sibal wrote.
Kapil Sibal also tweeted on this matter on Independence Day, posting: “As we celebrate Independence Day, courts must never forget that their commitment to the cause of liberty and our constitutional values will be judged not by their words and homilies but by their actions in dealing with causes”.
Mr Sibal had appeared for Tehelka magazine in the Supreme Court.
Along with Prashant Bhushan, the magazine is also accused of contempt in a 2009 case. Mr Bhushan’s interview accusing some former Chief Justices of India of corruption had been published in the magazine.
After more than two hours of arguments in the Prashant Bhushan case the Supreme Court, on Thursday, declared “freedom of speech is not absolute to anyone” and that there were boundaries that had to be respected.
“There is no person on Earth who cannot commit a mistake. You may do hundreds good things but that doesn’t give you a license to do 10 crimes,” Justice Arun Mishra, one of the judges on the bench, said.
The court demanded an “unconditional apology” by Monday, August 24.
Mr Bhushan said his tweets needed to be seen “as an attempt for working for the betterment of the institution”.
“I am pained to hear that I am held guilty of contempt of court. I am pained… because I am being grossly misunderstood,” he said, adding that open criticism was necessary to safeguard democracy in India.
In one of the tweets for which he was held guilty of contempt, Mr Bhushan had said “four previous Chief Justices of India played a role in destroying democracy in India in the last six years”.
The other accused Chief Justice SA Bobde of riding a motorcycle – he was photographed on a Harley Davidson in Nagpur last month – without a helmet and face mask.
Sources close to the Chief Justice told that the bike was brought to him by a Harley Davidson dealer for a demo and Justice Bobde “only sat on it” for a feel. The sources also said he was wearing a mask but removed it and kept it in his pocket while sitting on the bike.
Mr Bhushan told the court on August 3 that he regretted only a “part of” what he tweeted and asserted that criticism of the top judge “does not scandalise” the court or lower its authority.