NEW DELHI: A group of 41 prominent lawyers have written to the Supreme Court against the conviction of Prashant Bhushan for criminal contempt, saying the ruling will discourage advocates from being outspoken.
The statement signed by senior lawyers such as Vrinda Grover, Dushyant Dave, Kamini Jaiswal, Karuna Nundy, Shyam Divan, Sanjay Hegde, Menaka Guruswamy and others said: “It is the duty of lawyers to freely bring any shortcomings to the notice of bar, bench and the public at large. While some of us may have divergent views on the advisability and content of Prashant Bhushan’s two tweets, we are unanimously of the view that no contempt of court was intended or committed.”
The judgment may discourage lawyers from being outspoken, the signatories said: “A bar silenced under the threat of contempt, will undermine the independence and ultimately the strength of the court. A silenced bar, cannot lead to a strong court.”
They expressed disappointment that the court disregarded the presence of the attorney general, who they described as a respected lawyer of great eminence, and its refusal to seek his valuable opinion in the matter, which is mandated “even as per contempt law”. “We are of the firm view that the judgment must not be given effect to, until a larger bench, sitting in open court after the pandemic has the opportunity to review the standards of criminal contempt,” the statement says. In a separate statement, over 450 lawyers wrote to Supreme Court Bar Association president Dushyant Dave saying that the association must take up the issue with regard to proper hearing.
Registering their protest against the manner in which the criminal contempt cases were taken up against Bhushan, they said though the lawyer had filed a preliminary reply affidavit, he had sought more time to put on record a more detailed affidavit to defend himself. “However, he was denied this opportunity to defend himself, and the matter was hurriedly taken up against him and decided,” it says.