Contempt of Court and Freedom of Speech: An Analysis of the Prashant Bhushan Judgment

Editor’s Note 1Posts about the contemporary Supreme Court may be read in the context of the caveats set out in this post (link).


Editor’s Note 2: Justice is an indivisible concept. We cannot, therefore, discuss contemporary Supreme Court judgments without also acknowledging the Court’s failure – at an institutional level – to do justice in the case involving sexual harassment allegations (link) against a former Chief Justice. This editorial caveat will remain in place for all future posts on this blog dealing with the Supreme Court, until there is a material change in circumstances (e.g., the introduction of structural mechanisms to ensure accountability)].


I began reading the 108-page long judgment (link) of the Supreme Court, which found Prashant Bhushan guilty of serious “contempt”, with a view to analysing its legal reasoning. On finishing the judgment, however, I found myself in a conundrum: there is no legal reasoning, and therefore nothing to analyse. In particular, Mr. Bhushan had filed an extensive reply (link) to the contempt proceedings against him, contextualising and defending the two tweets for which these proceedings were initiated; among other things, this Reply set out the basis for Mr. Bhushan’s opinion about the role of the last four Chief Justices in the decline of Indian democracy.

In the 108-page long judgment (the substantive part of which begins at page 93), the Supreme Court refuses entirely to engage with Mr. Bhushan’s reply. There are some colourful – and somewhat confusing – references to the Supreme Court being the “epitome” (?) of the judiciary, the need to maintain “the comity of nations” (?!), and an “iron hand” (!). There is, however, no legal reasoning, and no examination of the Reply.

It stands to reason that if an individual has been accused of contempt of court because they expressed an opinion about the role of four Chief Justices in undermining democracy, and that individual has filed a Reply setting out the facts upon the basis of which they arrived at that opinion, a “judgment” holding that individual guilty of contempt cannot pretend that the Reply does not exist. It reminds me of the times I used to take a football from the halfway line, dribble it across the pitch, and kick it into the goal – without any opposition players on the field.

But if the Court chooses not to explain itself, then there is little purpose to be served in excavating an explanation that it ought to have made, and then engaging with that imaginary explanation on legal grounds.

Consequently, I end this post here. Interested readers may consult the Reply, the “Judgment”, and draw their own conclusions.

29 thoughts on “Contempt of Court and Freedom of Speech: An Analysis of the Prashant Bhushan Judgment

    • Those who have commented against your article have found any gems in 108- page judgement. But you could have ripped open the judgement where it was weak in its reasoning to have arrived at the conclusion as it did. Have to read both Bhushan’s statement as well as the judgement.

    • Read your post in `The last word’.Just like SC, you have chosen to ignore Bhusan’s reply to the court. If you have read it, please point out the facts that have been `distorted’ by Bhushan! That would have lend some credence to your post here.
      One question, do you feel calling Bhushan `worse than dog’ enhances your credibility or added any additional punch to your post? Did Bhushan call you a dog or worse,and you have retaliated in kind? Just being curious!

      • I am no one to be called anything. I appreciate your curiosity. Glad, you read ‘the last word’. Funnily, there isn’t ever any. Please follow P.B.’s escapades on the issue further. It’s more dramatic and learn-worthy than what he actually replies with in real world. Cheers.

  1. This was a great article. I have also read others mentioned in note. Why should judiciary be out of criticism? If all the three executive, legislature and judiciary are accountable to the public and subject to criticism. Also I have a request. Can you please tell me about other informative legal blogs like this one. Especially in the area of financial regulation and securities law. Multiple recommendations are more than welcome. Thank you.

  2. Lousy article on serious subject where author asks reader to read both defendant’s reply and judgement and to make it’s own decision.

      • Better to warn PB and let him go rather than punish him with imprisonment or fine and make him a martyr. Constantly writing against judges and courts is not fair. Has he proved one case of corruption against any judge? Law does not prevent him from moving the magistrate, if he has materials. Yet one judge after the other is blamed. This browbeating should stop. Hope to see a magnanimous view by judges conceding to the views of KKV

  3. On finishing the note of this author I am of the firm view that there is no legal reasoning or any reasoning at all in his note. He has nothing to say except that Prashant Bhushan is a very intelligent and learned man who has raised very logical and legal questions which honourable judges of the court have failed to answer. I have gone through the judgment and feel that it one of the most reasonable judgment. The author of this note should read the judgement and not give the judgement. I fail to understand as to why the provisions of Constitution of India, the law of Contempt of court and the judgments of the Supreme court quoted and discussed in the judgment under assail is not law. Whether a law is law only when it is interpreted by the Supreme court in accordance with the reasoning given by the Prashant Bhushan or you.
    It appears you don’t believe in the institutions set up under the Constitution.

    • Is it the case that if a reply to allegation is “prima facie devoid of merit” and “out of context” “without any evidentiary value” then the same “may” not be mentioned in a judgement – “different parts of judgement”

      1. To decide something “prima facie devoid of merit” one needs to reason with the reply as to why it is devoid of merit. It is obvious. I do not know of any better way to judge that.

      2. Same goes with adjudging whether it is “out of context” (and clearly his reply was with no stretch of imagination can be termed as out of context).

      3. Same for whether or not it was of any evidentiary value. And this is mostly decided by the express provisions of Indian Evidence Act and the governing principles of it.

      4. “different parts of judgement” – Essentially the judgement does not deal extensively with the most important part which is whether or not the reply by the alleged contemnor was good enough to form such an opinion which he has formed.

      For your reply I have just have this to say “The level of language used is so poor, leave alone the legal interpretation……so poor that it does not merit a reply…….devoid of merit and out of context……worthless piece of writing

  4. न्यायपालिका कुर्सी का गुलाम होगा ऐसा इतिहास में दर्ज हो गया। CJI यौन शोषण करे, MP बन जाये, जनता के सामने प्रेस वार्ता करने मजबूर हो जाये इससे अवमानना नहीं होता ? प्रवासी मजदूर कोरोना मदद की याचिका पर और जनता द्वारा चुनी सरकार को गिराने आदि याचिका पर सुनवाई का समय नहीं है और जनता से जुड़े मुद्दे पर स्वतः संज्ञान लेने का हिम्मत नहीं है न्यायपालिका को। बेहद शर्मनाक। जनता सच नहीं बोल सकती, जनता का मौलिक अधिकार का हनन न्यायपालिका ही करे तो ईश्वर की अदालत ही फैसला करेगा अब।

  5. Probably the worst possibly legal blog I have ever read. The level of language used is so poor, leave alone the legal interpretation of the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, are so poor that it does not merit a reply. The author is oblivious of the fact that if a reply to allegations are prima facie devoid of merit and out of context without any evidentiary value then the same may not be mentioned in a judgment. The author is also unaware of the fact what are the different parts of judgment. It is a pity that such worthless piece of writing is castigated as ‘legal blogs’.

    • Is it the case that if a reply to allegation is “prima facie devoid of merit” and “out of context” “without any evidentiary value” then the same “may” not be mentioned in a judgement – “different parts of judgement”

      1. To decide something “prima facie devoid of merit” one needs to reason with the reply as to why it is devoid of merit. It is obvious. I do not know of any better way to judge that.

      2. Same goes with adjudging whether it is “out of context” (and clearly his reply was with no stretch of imagination can be termed as out of context).

      3. Same for whether or not it was of any evidentiary value. And this is mostly decided by the express provisions of Indian Evidence Act and the governing principles of it.

      4. “different parts of judgement” – Essentially the judgement does not deal extensively with the most important part which is whether or not the reply by the alleged contemnor was good enough to form such an opinion which he has formed.

      For your reply I have just have this to say (in your words), “The level of language used is so poor, leave alone the legal interpretation……so poor that it does not merit a reply…….devoid of merit and out of context……worthless piece of writing”

  6. Mr. Goutam Bhatia pl explain why the particular tweets doesn’t invite the provisions of Contempt of Court Act Act or article 129 of the Constitution of India and what’s freedom of speech and expression? Is it unbridled horse? Is there difference between freedom and anarchy, pl explain yaar.

  7. Those who have commented against your article have not found any gems in 108- page judgement. But you could have ripped open the judgement where it was weak in its reasoning to have arrived at the conclusion as it did. Have to read both Bhushan’s statement as well as the judgement.

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