SC reserves verdict in 2009 contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan

The case was filed against Bhushan after he made allegations against former Chief Justices of India SH Kapadia and KG Balakrishnan during an interview with Tehelka magazine back in 2009

Supreme Court of India (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Supreme Court of India (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
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NH Web Desk

The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its orders on whether or not to accept the statement submitted by advocate Prashant Bhushan in a contempt case filed against him back in 2009, legal news website BarandBench.com has reported.

The order passed by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari states: "Explanation/apology submitted by Mr Prashant Bhushan/ Respondent No1 and Mr. Tarun Tejpal/Respondent No.2, have not been received so far. In case we do not accept the explanation/apology, we will hear the matter. We reserve the order."

Tuesday’s hearing began with Justice Mishra asking Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan for assistance in deciphering the thin line that exists between "freedom of speech and expression and contempt of court."

In response, Dhavan said, "Mr Bhushan has given an explanation. That explanation can put an end to this."

Justice Mishra then proceeded to speak with Dhavan on the phone.

Soon after, the Bench rose and indicated that it was done for the day.

However, the Bench again resumed hearing in the afternoon after it finished the listed cases for the day. By then, it had conducted WhatsApp calls with Senior Advocates Dhavan and Kapil Sibal.

The Bench told the lawyers that it wanted to put an end to the matter to protect the dignity of the court and of the judges. Therefore, it asked asked the parties to issue statements tendering their apologies. Prashant Bhushan, however, refused to tender an apology, but agreed to issue a statement instead. His statement reads:

"In my interview to Tehelka in 2009 I have used the word corruption in a wide sense meaning lack of propriety. I did not mean only financial corruption or deriving any pecuniary advantage. If what I have said caused hurt to any of them or to their families in any way, I regret the same. I unreservedly state that I support the institution of the judiciary and especially the Supreme Court of which I am a part, and had no intention to lower the prestige of the judiciary in which I have complete faith. I regret if my interview was misunderstood as doing so, that is, lower the reputation of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, which could never have been my intention at all."

After the Bench re-assembled, Justice Mishra indicated that he may pass an order holding that any statement of corruption in the judiciary would amount to contempt per se.

However, Senior Advocate Dhavan stated that such a finding cannot and should not be rendered without hearing the parties.

It is understood that the earlier discussion between the judges and the lawyer over WhatsApp was only regarding whether the proceedings could be dropped in the light of the statements.

Following this, the court reserved its verdict on whether to accept the statement submitted by Bhushan or proceed against him.

On July 25, the Bench had deferred the hearing in the case after the counsel stated that the voluminous case files and records of the 11-year-old-case contempt case against Bhushan had to be arranged.

The contempt case was filed against Bhushan after he made allegations against former Chief Justices of India SH Kapadia and KG Balakrishnan during an interview with Tehelka magazine back in 2009.

During the interview, Bhushan also allegedly said that half of the preceding 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt. As per the complaint, Bhushan also said in the interview that he had no proof of the allegations.

Post this, the Supreme Court had taken suo motu notice of the issue after a complaint to this effect was filed by Senior Advocate Harish Salve.

The contempt petition was held to be maintainable by a three-judge Bench on November 10, 2010, following which the case was heard on 17 occasions.

Bhushan’s father and former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan had subsequently filed an application bringing on record the instances of corruption against six CJIs. This was produced in a sealed cover.

After the court decided to take up the matter last month, it was requested to take up the case for hearing only after the physical hearings start.

Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal, representing then Editor of Tehelka Tarun Tejpal, had also sought for the case to be heard once physical hearings at the Court resume, stating that there was no urgency involved.

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