Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who has been held guilty of contempt of court for his comments on judiciary, told the Supreme Court on Monday that lawyers raising corruption issues for larger public good must be allowed to do so as a matter of free speech.
Bhushan was responding to charges of criminal contempt over his remarks in an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009.
In a 1995 case, C Ravichandran Iyer vs Justice A M Bhattacharjee & Ors, the Supreme Court had “indicated that members of the bar and others should not speak in public but use only the in-house procedure which has been devised for receiving complaints against judges”.
Referring to the 1995 judgment, Bhushan said in his written submission: “It is however now clear that the internal procedure is inadequate and ineffective; and the impeachment procedure is too complex and political. Therefore, at present there is no effective procedure to deal with corruption in the judiciary other than the public and particularly through lawyers who know from experience the extent of corruption in the judiciary or vis a vis a particular judge. Any exercise of alleging corruption in the public interest must therefore squarely lie within the domain of freedom of speech under Article 19 (1) (a) and the duty of lawyers in particular to the institution of the judiciary.”
Defending his use of word “corruption” in the context of judiciary, Bhushan said he had already explained “that he had used the word corruption in a wide sense to include any act of impropriety other than merely financial corruption” and “therefore, to examine whether imputing corruption to a judge would amount to per se contempt, one would first need to examine as to what the word corruption has been normally understood to include”.
Bhushan said various judgments, reports, and statements of judges have also discussed corruption in the judiciary in the past and referred to observations on the subject in the 1964 Parliamentary report of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption.
The three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari has postponed the hearing to next week.
On August 14, the Supreme Court held Bhushan guilty of contempt of court in another case over two of his tweets.