–By Snehi Suryash
The Supreme Court today had allowed former Union minister Arun Shourie , journalist N Ram and activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan to withdraw their plea. Which was challenging the constitutional validity of a legal provision dealing with criminal contempt for “scandalizing the court”. The plea had challenged the validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972.
The three-Judge bench comprised of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari which was headed by Justice Arun Mishra. The hearing was conducted through video-conference.
The listing of the case was at the centre of a controversy when the Supreme Court Registry reportedly “hauled up” its officers. As the case was not listed before the bench. The bench is already dealing with two separate contempt petitions against Bhushan under same sub-section that the PIL has challenged.
The petition was listed for hearing on August 10 before a bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and K.M. Joseph. However, on the same day, the matter was dropped from the list of business.
Withdrawal of the plea
At the outset, the court was told by Adv.Rajeev Dhawan that the petitioners wanted to withdraw the plea. He stated that they want to withdraw the plea as several petitions on the same issue are pending before the apex court & they don’t want “this to be entangled” with them. He said that the issue is important but the petitioners would not like to raise the issue at this stage.
Dhavan requested the court to allow the petitioners to withdraw the plea with liberty to approach the top court again. Also added that maybe after two months or so.
The court thus allowed the petition to be withdrawn, giving the petitioners liberty to file it later before an appropriate forum.
The petition challenging the provision of Contempt of Courts Act
This petition challenged the validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1972. The provision deals with the offence of criminal contempt for “scandalising the court”.
The plea was filed shortly after the Supreme Court initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his contentious tweets. Also took up for hearing an 11-year-old contempt case against the advocate that had been shelved for years.
Bhushan’s case was mired in controversy even before it was heard. When it was earlier listed before a Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and KM Joseph, Supreme Court officials were “hauled up” for incorrect listing of the case.
That lead to the transfer of the matter before a Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra. This was on account of an application filed along with the petition seeking a stay on the ongoing proceedings against Bhushan which was being heard by a Bench led by Justice Mishra.
The petition contended that Section 2(1)(c) of the Act is violative of Articles 19 and 14 of the Constitution of lndia.
Stated that the impugned sub-section is unconstitutional as it is incompatible with preamble values and basic features of the Constitution. It violates Article 19(1)(a), is unconstitutionally and incurably vague, and is manifestly arbitrary.”
Therefore, they have prayed for the sub-section to be declared as unconstitutional.
Provision violates right to free speech to the extent that it is not covered under the reasonable restrictions enlisted under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. It is contended that “scandalising the court” cannot be said to be covered under the ground of “contempt of court” under Art. 19(2).
Even if it the sub-section was permitted under the head of contempt in the “reasonable restrictions” listed in Art. 19(2), it is still disproportionate and unreasonable.