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Today’s hearing in the contempt petitions filed by Attorney General KK Venugopal and the Centre against Prashant Bhushan threw up some interesting points surrounding the issue of commenting on sub judice cases.
Before the Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha issued notice to Bhushan, it discussed the larger issue of the judiciary facing criticism in the media in pending matters.
During the course of the hearing, AG KK Venugopal highlighted the statements made by Bhushan on Twitter. He said that Bhushan chose to go online with the statements instead of coming to Court.
“An end has to be put…You’re going public in a pending matter…I don’t want any punishment against my friend, but there has to be a decision”, Venugopal said.
Noting that the issue is much larger, the Bench asked the Attorney General about the law regarding media discussions on matters that are pending before the Court.
Justice Arun Mishra observed,
“Earlier, lawyers desisted from speaking publicly about matters they appeared in. Now, everyday we find that in pending matters, a lawyer who argues here, goes out and criticises orders.”
The AG also pointed out that Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave wrote an article “defending Bhushan” in a website.
Justice Mishra observed that while the media has the right to report on what transpires in courts, and the public has the right to know, it is the Bar that must act as the protector of the Judiciary. Justice Mishra said,
“Capable people like you Venugopal, Nariman, and Parasaran have upheld the nobility of the Bar. We have upheld the independence of the Bar saying that Bar should not be sycophants of the Court. Bar is supposed to be the protector of the judiciary, but now…we don’t know.”
Justice Navin Sinha weighed in to note that this issue brings up a more fundamental point that freedom comes with responsibility.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta expressed severe opposition to the common practice of lawyers going public with their statements and criticising the Court as well as individual judges.
“Let not the magnanimity of the institution be misconceived to be its weakness. Everyday it is happening that individual judges and the institution are criticised. This needs to stop.”