The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought a response from activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan on contempt pleas by Attorney General K K Venugopal and the Centre for his tweets allegedly criticising the court over the appointment of M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director.
Bhushan was given three weeks to reply.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Naveen Sinha said it would deal with the larger question of whether it is open for lawyers or any other person to criticise the court in a sub judice matter which would lead to influencing public opinion.
Criticising the court may also lead to interference in the course of justice, the bench added.
“This issue required to be heard in length, notice issued,” it said, listing the matter for further hearing on March 7.
Bhushan, in his tweets, alleged that the Centre, represented by Venugopal, misled the apex court on the issue of Rao’s appointment.
On Tuesday, the Centre moved the apex court seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his tweets and said they amounted to making false statement in a pending case. This was days after Venugopal’s contempt petition against Bhushan.
Venugopal, in his contempt plea, referred to the extracts of the minutes of the meeting of the high powered selection committee comprising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Justice A K Sikri and leader of the largest opposition party Mallikarjun Kharge.
The Centre’s plea also referred to the contents of Venugopal’s petition and submitted that they be also read as part of its plea.
Venugopal’s petition referred to Bhushan’s February 1 tweets in which he alleged that the government appeared to have misled the apex court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the meeting of the high-powered selection committee.
Through his tweets, Venugopal said, Bhushan appeared to have deliberately intended to cast aspersions on the “integrity and honesty” of the attorney general who had placed the minutes of the meeting before the apex court during the February 1 hearing.
On February 1, a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was hearing a petition filed by NGO Common Cause challenging the Centre’s decision to appoint Rao, an IPS officer, as interim CBI director.
Venugopal said in his petition that Bhushan’s tweets “scandalise or tend to scandalise and lower or tend to lower the authority of this court”.
He said during the hearing on February 1, he had handed over to the bench the minutes of meeting of the high-powered committee held on January 9 and January 10.
According to the petition, signatures of all the three members of the committee — were affixed in the decision taken by the panel.
Venugopal said Bhushan, in one of his tweets on February 1, had said, “I have just confirmed personally from the leader of opposition Mr Kharge that no discussion or decision in HPC meet was taken re-appointment of Nageswara Rao as interim Director of CBI. The govt appears to have misled the court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the HPC meeting.”
The attorney general said the statement/confirmation attributed to Kharge could never have been made by him for the simple reason that he himself had signed the minutes of the meeting which also contained the final decisions of the high-powered committee.
“If the minutes of the meeting were to be fabricated, the members of the high powered committee who constituted the majority would have to be parties to such fabrication as their signatures are contained on the very same page on which the decision is recorded in the minutes,” the plea had said.