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‘ICJ raises concern on SC’s decision on Bhusan case’

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    7th Sep, 2020

While the Supreme Court only imposed a symbolic fine of one rupee, rather than imprisonment, the International Court of Jurists (ICJ) considers that the conviction appears to be inconsistent with international standards on freedom of expression and the role of lawyers.

Context

While the Supreme Court only imposed a symbolic fine of one rupee, rather than imprisonment, the International Court of Jurists (ICJ) considers that the conviction appears to be inconsistent with international standards on freedom of expression and the role of lawyers.

About

  • The International Commission of Jurists is comprised of up to sixty lawyers (including senior judges, attorneys and academics) dedicated to ensuring respect for international human rights standards through the law.
  • Composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, the International Commission of Jurists promotes and protects human rights through the Rule of Law, by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems.
  • Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Established in 1952 and active on the five continents, the ICJ aims to-
    • ensure the progressive development and effective implementation of international human rights and international humanitarian law
    • secure the realization of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights; safeguard the separation of powers
    • guarantee the independence of the judiciary and legal profession.

Key-points of ICJ

  • While the Court only imposed a symbolic fine of one rupee, rather than imprisonment, the ICJ considers that the conviction appears to be inconsistent with international standards on freedom of expression and the role of lawyers.
  • The ICJ stressed that the ruling risks having a chilling effect on the exercise of protected freedom of expression in India.
  • It urged a review of the laws and standards on criminal contempt as applied by the Indian courts.
  • Specifically, the ICJ has voiced its concern regarding the conviction in so far as it appears to be inconsistent with international laws on freedom of expression as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19, ICCPR), to which India is a party.

Article 19 of the ICCPR

  • Article 19 of the ICCPR provides in part that,

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

  • However, it also specifies that, the exercise of those rights may be subject to certain restrictions, “but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
    1. For respect of the rights or reputations of others
    2. For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”

Background


  • Noted advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan, held guilty of contempt of court for two tweets against present Chief Justice SA Bode and past four CJIs.
  • The Supreme Court found that the allegations were based on distorted facts and amounted to a scurrilous and malicious attack on apex court and destabilized the foundation of the judiciary, was sentenced to a token fine of Rs 1. 
  • The Supreme Court bench, comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, directed the lawyer to deposit the amount by September 15, failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarment from law practice for three years.
    • The Court considered that its ruling was consistent with freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, saying that it will have to balance its exercise of power to punish for contempt for itself (Article 129) with freedom of speech and expression.
    • The freedom of speech cannot be curtailed but rights of others need to be respected.

What needs to be done?

  • Agreeing that while certain limitations on the freedom of expression are allowed as per international standards, ICJ emphasized that discussions involving the role of the judiciary, access to justice, and democracy by members of the public must be given the widest possible scope in terms of exercising that freedom.
  • Restrictions, the Commission opined, must be imposed only when necessary and in a proportionate manner in order to fulfil a legitimate purpose such as securing public order.
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