Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, who is facing criminal contempt proceedings in the Supreme Court, has submitted that the criticism of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) does not scandalise the top court or lower its authority.
Mr Bhushan made the submission in an affidavit before the Supreme Court on Sunday, in which he also said that to suggest that the CJI is the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court is the CJI is to undermine the institution of the Supreme Court of India.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had earlier issued a contempt notice to Mr Bhushan in a suo moto case following a petition requesting the same over two of his tweets.
"To bona fide critique the actions of a CJI, or a succession of CJIs, cannot and does not scandalise the court, nor does it lower the authority of the court. To assume or suggest that ''the CJI is the SC, and the SC is the CJI" is to undermine the institution of the Supreme Court of India," the affidavit said.
Mr Bhushan submitted that his tweet about Chief Justice of India riding a motorbike was to underline his anguish at the non-physical functioning of the Supreme Court for last more than three months, with hardly any cases being heard.
The affidavit further said that Mr Bhushan's tweet about last four Chief Justice of India was his "bonafide impression" about them and it is his considered opinion that "Supreme Court allowed the destruction of democracy" and such expression of opinion, however, "outspoken, disagreeable or unpalatable" can't constitute contempt.
"What I have tweeted is thus my bonafide impression about the manner and functioning of the Supreme court in the past years and especially about the role of the last four Chief Justices have played vis a vis their role in being a check and balance on the powers of the executive, their role in ensuring that the supreme court functions in a transparent and accountable manner and was constrained to say that they, contributed to undermining democracy," the affidavit said.
"Freedom of expression and the concomitant right to criticise includes a fair and robust criticism of the judiciary. This cannot amount to contempt of court or lowering the dignity of the court in any manner," it added.
On his tweet about Chief Justice SA Bobde riding a motorbike last month, Mr Bushan said that fact about the CJI being seen in the presence of many people without a mask was meant to highlight the incongruity of the situation where the CJI keeps the court virtually in lockdown due to COVID fears and on the other hand is seen in public without a mask.
On June 27, Mr Bhushan had in a tweet accused the Supreme Court of playing a part in the "destruction of India''s democracy" in the last six years.