N Ram’s petition deleted as it sought stay on Prashant Bhushan’s contempt pleas, says SC

Days after the Supreme Court ordered an inquiry as to how a petition filed by senior journalist N Ram, former Union Minister Arun Shourie and advocate Prashant Bhushan challenging the contempt of court law got listed before a bench other than the one which was hearing contempt petitions against Bhushan, it has now emerged that the petition contained an application for staying all contempt proceedings against the advocate.

The application mentioned the two contempt petitions pending against Bhushan before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra. One was a 2009 contempt case initiated against Bhushan for his interview given to Tehelka magazine where he alleged half of past 16 Chief Justices of India (CJI) to be corrupt. The other contempt case was initiated on two tweets by Bhushan. One criticized CJI SA Bobde of riding a bike while keeping Courts closed and another was directed against the judiciary for destroying democracy without a formal Emergency. The tweets were of June 27 and June 29.

A statement released by the Supreme Court on Monday said, “In the Writ Petition titled as N. Ram and Others v Union of India, an application for stay has been moved making a request to stay all the proceedings in criminal contempt cases pending against Petitioner no. 3 (Prashant Bhushan).”

On receiving this petition, the SC Registry listed the matter before a bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud on Monday, August 10. But the petition was withdrawn after this application surfaced.

An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain how the petition got listed before a bench other than Justice Mishra. Pending such inquiry, the statement makes it amply clear why the matter was deleted from the list of Justice Chandrachud. The note released by SC said, “It is a cardinal principle of law that a coordinate bench cannot stay the proceedings of ongoing cases which are pending before other similar bench. This would have created a problem as one Court cannot stay the proceedings of other court having the same jurisdiction.”

The petition by Ram, Bhushan and Shourie is yet to be listed. The petition has challenged the validity of Section 2(c)(i) of the Contempt of Courts Acty 1971 which criminalizes publication of any matter that could scandalize or lower the authority of courts.

The petition alleged that this provision violates freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Constitution and gags discourse on matters of public importance.

The stay application annexed with the petition had prayed to “stay all ongoing proceedings in criminal contempt cases pending against the Petitioner no 3 herein, that are either based on the definition of criminal contempt as defined under Section 2(c)(i) of Contempt of Courts Act or are intrinsically linked to the same during the pendency of the instant writ petition.”

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