Home Legal News Lawyers entitled to Voice Legitimate Criticism, says UK lawyers body in Prashant Bhushan Contempt Case

Lawyers entitled to Voice Legitimate Criticism, says UK lawyers body in Prashant Bhushan Contempt Case

by Shreya
Contempt Prashant Bhushan Twitter Supreme Court

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) has issued a statement saying that the Supreme Court’s contempt verdict against advocate Prashant Bhushan amounted to interference with “legitimate criticism”.

“We are extremely concerned that the Court in reaching its decision did not hold in contemplation that lawyers are entitled to, and should have, the freedom to voice publicly legitimate criticism of how justice is administered”

the BHRC said in Prashant Bhushan case.

The UK-based lawyer’s body pointed out that the offence of scandalizing the court was abolished in the United Kingdom after it was widely felt that it could have “undesirable effects” on “free speech or legitimate criticism”.

“The offence of scandalising the court arose in an era where deferential respect to authority figures was the norm and before a human rights framework protected the civil liberties of individuals and enabled the institutions of power to be held properly to account,” it said.

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“To stymie such criticism risks a chilling effect on an appropriate and necessary debate to advance law reform in a democratic society”

the statement read.

“An independent and impartial judiciary is stronger when enabling open and public debate on its operations,” it added.

The BHRC has called upon the Supreme Court to review this decision and discharge Prashant Bhushan of this charge. The statement says:

“We call upon the Supreme Court of India to:

  • Enable an effective review process of the decisions of the Court to instigate contempt proceedings of its own motion and to convict Mr Prashant Bhushan of criminal contempt;
  • Stay sentencing of Mr Prashant Bhushan until such review has been conducted;
  • In any event, discharge Mr Prashant Bhushan from serving any punishment for the offence, commensurate with the broader context of public debate and the right to freedom of expression and legitimate criticism that the legal profession is entitled to exercise.”

The statutory offence of criminal contempt of Court has long been disused in the UK and was ultimately abolished in 2013 after a Law Commission recommended so in 2012. This was on account of this Common law offence not being prosecuted under for over 80 years. The British Law Commission recognised that the offence of contempt through scandalizing the court or judiciary is in principle a violation of fundamental rights and advocated for the abolition of this offence.

“the English jurisprudence shows that the offence relates to abuse of the judiciary of a fairly extreme and irresponsible kind. Criticism in good faith, as part of a discussion of a question of public interest, does not fall within the offence.”

The BHRC expresses concern over the Supreme Court of India in Prashant Bhushan Case concluding that Prashant Bhushan tweets were not in good faith and were in fact “scurrilous” and “malicious”. In doing so, the Court “did not hold in contemplation that lawyers are entitled to, and should have, the freedom to voice publicly legitimate criticism of how justice is administered.”

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An independent and impartial judiciary is stronger when enabling open and public debate on its operations.

It is in this backdrop that not only a review of the Prashant Bhushan judgment of August 14 is urged upon, but a call is also made by the BHRC for this statutory provision to be abolished.

Read the Statement over Prashant Bhushan case here:

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) has issued a statement saying that the Supreme Court’s contempt verdict against advocate Prashant Bhushan amounted to interference with “legitimate criticism”.

“We are extremely concerned that the Court in reaching its decision did not hold in contemplation that lawyers are entitled to, and should have, the freedom to voice publicly legitimate criticism of how justice is administered,” the BHRC said.

The UK-based lawyer’s body pointed out that the offence of scandalizing the court was abolished in the United Kingdom after it was widely felt that it could have “undesirable effects” on “free speech or legitimate criticism”.

“The offence of scandalising the court arose in an era where deferential respect to authority figures was the norm and before a human rights framework protected the civil liberties of individuals and enabled the institutions of power to be held properly to account,” it said.

“To stymie such criticism risks a chilling effect on an appropriate and necessary debate to advance law reform in a democratic society,” the statement read.

“An independent and impartial judiciary is stronger when enabling open and public debate on its operations,” it added.

The BHRC has called upon the Supreme Court to review this decision and discharge Bhushan of this charge. The statement says:

“We call upon the Supreme Court of India to:

  • Enable an effective review process of the decisions of the Court to instigate contempt proceedings of its own motion and to convict MrBhushan of criminal contempt;
  • Stay sentencing of MrBhushan until such review has been conducted;
  • In any event, discharge MrBhushan from serving any punishment for the offence, commensurate with the broader context of public debate and the right to freedom of expression and legitimate criticism that the legal profession is entitled to exercise.”

The statutory offence of criminal contempt of Court has long been disused in the UK and was ultimately abolished in 2013 after a Law Commission recommended so in 2012. This was on account of this Common law offence not being prosecuted under for over 80 years. The British Law Commission recognised that the offence of contempt through scandalizing the court or judiciary is in principle a violation of fundamental rights and advocated for the abolition of this offence.

“the English jurisprudence shows that the offence relates to abuse of the judiciary of a fairly extreme and irresponsible kind. Criticism in good faith, as part of a discussion of a question of public interest, does not fall within the offence.”

The BHRC expresses concern over the Supreme Court of India concluding that Bhushan tweets were not in good faith and were in fact “scurrilous” and “malicious”. In doing so, the Court “did not hold in contemplation that lawyers are entitled to, and should have, the freedom to voice publicly legitimate criticism of how justice is administered.”

An independent and impartial judiciary is stronger when enabling open and public debate on its operations.

It is in this backdrop that not only a review of the judgment of August 14 is urged upon, but a call is also made by the BHRC for this statutory provision to be abolished.

Read the Statement here:

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