Lawyer Prashant Bhushan has been held guilty of contempt for his two tweets on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will decide on the sentence on August 20. A three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari delivered the verdict.
Mr Bhushan in an affidavit on August 3 had said 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.
He had commented on a photo of Chief Justice Bobde on a superbike. Mr Bhushan in an affidavit on August 2 said he regretted asking why Justice Bobde was not wearing a helmet, since the bike was on a stand.
"At the outset I admit that I did not notice that the bike was on a stand and therefore wearing a helmet was not required. I therefore regret that part of my tweet. However, I stand by the remaining part of what I have stated in my tweet..." the lawyer said in his affidavit submitted on August 2.
The court discharged Twitter from contempt for publishing Mr Bhushan's tweets, saying it accepts the explanation given by the microblogging website.
"We accept the explanation given by it, that it is only an intermediary and that it does not have any control on what the users post on the platform. It has also showed bona fides immediately after cognisance was taken by this court as it has suspended both the tweets. We, therefore, discharge the notice..." the Supreme Court said.
"Bhushan's tweets are based on the distorted facts, amount to committing of criminal contempt. The tweets are not fair criticism of functioning of judiciary made in public interest. The scurrilous allegations, which are malicious in nature and have the tendency to scandalise the court, are not expected from a person, who is a lawyer of 30 years standing," the Supreme Court said.
"The publication by tweet reaches millions of people and as such, such a huge extent of publication would also be one of the factors that require to be taken into consideration while considering the question of good faith," the top court said.
"Indian judiciary is not only one of pillars on which Indian democracy stands but is the central pillar. An attempt to shake the very foundation of constitutional democracy has to be dealt with an iron hand. The tweet has the effect of destabilising the very foundation of this important pillar of Indian democracy. Fearless and impartial courts of justice are the bulwark of a healthy democracy and the confidence in them cannot be permitted to be impaired by malicious attacks upon them," the Supreme Court said.
Mr Bhushan said he was exercising his freedom of speech and giving his opinion about the functioning of the court, and it does not amount to "obstruction of justice", necessitating the contempt proceedings.
In the last hearing, Mr Bhushan's lawyer Dushyant Dave had said the two tweets were not against the institution. "They are against the judges in their personal capacity regarding their conduct. They are not malicious and do not obstruct administration of justice," Mr Dave had said.
"To bona fide critique the actions of a Chief Justice or a succession of Chief Justices cannot and does not scandalise the court, nor does it lower the authority of the court," Mr Bhushan's affidavit said.