Contempt case against Prashant Bhushan for posting tweets: SC reserves verdict on sentencing

In the hearing on Tuesday, the court heard Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan appearing for Prashant Bhushan and Attorney General for India KK Venugopal at length, before deciding to reserve the verdict

Advocate Prashant Bhushan
Advocate Prashant Bhushan

NH Web Desk

The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its verdict on the sentence to be imposed on advocate Prashant Bhushan in the contempt case filed against him for his tweets criticising the judiciary, legal news website reported.

The order was reserved by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, who heard Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan and Attorney General for India KK Venugopal at length.

Dhavan, appearing for Bhushan, informed the court that his client had submitted a statement clarifying his stance yesterday.

Bhushan had filed a supplementary statement reiterating his position to stand by his tweets. He refused to apologise for the tweets for which he was held to be in contempt for. His statement says, "If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem."

The court then sought the views of Attorney General KK Venugopal on how to proceed with the matter. The AG responded, "He (Bhushan) may be given a warning first and let go. He need not be punished."

Justice Mishra then said, "But he doesn't think whatever he did was wrong. He did not submit an apology...What to do when someone does not think they did something wrong?"

The AG then reminded the Bench of the time he had proceeded against Bhushan in connection with the Rafale case.

"He (Bhushan) expressed regret and then when I read it, I thought we should not proceed with contempt and I withdrew the same because he expressed will be a great service if Your Lordships take a compassionate view and leave it there," he said.

Justice Mishra went on to say, "When Mr. Bhushan does not think he did anything wrong then what is the point of giving him advice to not repeat it?"

When the AG pointed out the good work Bhushan has done by filing PILs before the Court, Justice Gavai remarked, "PILs and all is good work but when it came to you, even you filed a contempt......You withdrew it only after he expressed regret. But that's not the case here."

Justice Mishra added, "There are very serious statements made. They are asking us to consider his defence during sentencing...He has made so many remarks. Even in the Ramjanmabhoomi case...Only one of those judges has retired."

When Venugopal said that Bhushan would not do it again, the court replied, "Let him say that. But he then instead of that he gave colour to those tweets."

Venugopal then suggested that Bhushan's response be taken off record. However, Justice Mishra said, "Everyone is criticizing us that we have not considered his response and the AG is saying take his response off the record... Now if this is removed, we will be blamed that we removed his response on our own."

The Bench went on to refer to a statement made by Bhushan saying that the "Supreme Court has collapsed".

"Isn't that objectionable?" asked Justice Mishra.

Referring to the various allegations made by Bhushan in his filings, Justice Mishra said, "Which judge is left out, sitting or retired?"

The Court then broke for lunch.

When the hearing resumed, Dhavan made submissions on behalf of Bhushan. He began by stating, "I wear two hats, one I represent my client, and second is my duty towards the court. My duty towards court is not synonymous to the duty towards the client."

Dhavan then criticised the Supreme Court's order allowing Bhushan time to reconsider his statements and apologise.

"This is not what the Supreme Court does - 'we give you so many days, tender an apology'. This is wrong jurisprudence, no court can pass an order like this", Dhavan argued.

He added, "When your Lordships retire or even when you don't retire, there will be articles saying that the court decided some cases correctly or some cases incorrectly. They can't be stopped. Court can survive only on responsible criticism."

Dhavan then made it clear that there is no question of excising the affidavit filed by Bhushan. He thus sought a recall of the Court's August 14 judgment finding Bhushan guilty of contempt.

When the Bench sought his views on what action should be taken against Bhushan, Dhavan said, "AG said reprimand, I'm saying a general message should go out."

On August 14, the Supreme Court had found Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt of Court for two tweets criticising the judiciary.

The two tweets in question were posted in June this year. The first tweet pertained to Bhushan’s commentary on a picture of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on a high-end motorcycle, whereas in the second, Bhushan expressed his opinion on the role of last four CJIs amid the state of affairs in the country.

The court had initially fixed August 20 as the day for determining the sentence to be imposed on Bhushan. However, the court deferred the matter further to August 25 after the August 20 hearing, to give Bhushan another chance to tender an unconditional apology.

On the eve of the hearing, Bhushan had moved an application to defer the sentencing proceedings given that he intended to file a review plea challenging the August 14 verdict.

The court initially said that it was not inclined to postpone the hearing, while assuring that the sentence would not be acted upon until the review plea - which is yet to be filed - is dealt with. However, it later agreed to fix a hearing for August 25, if Bhushan reconsidered his statement and tendered an "unconditional apology."

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