New Delhi: The Supreme Court today reserved its order on the quantum of punishment in the current suo moto criminal contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan for his two tweets.
During the course of today’s hearing, Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Bhushan, sought the court’s permission to read out the supplementary statement by Bhushan.
The bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra, however, said that the bench had already read the statement.
The bench thereafter sought the Attorney General’s views as to what should be done on the issue. AG KK Venugopal submitted: “Several sitting and retired judges have commented upon corruption in the higher judiciary. These statements were perhaps only to tell the court about the facts and ask for reforms. It is a fit case to forgive him.”
Justice Mishra, however, interjected and asked the AG to refrain from citing comments by former judges of the Supreme Court or media reports. “We shouldn’t be getting influenced by media reports. We will rather hear what the AG has to say,” Justice Mishra added.
Justice Mishra further observed that there is a positive part of the statement by Prashant Bhushan in which he says he has faith in this institution. But at the same time he says, he won’t apologise since he has not made any mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, but the person must also realise it.
Justice BR Gavai then asked the AG that he too had filed a contempt case against Bhushan and withdrew it only after he expressed regret. But that was not the case here.
Justice Mishra thereafter said that if Bhushan believes that he has done no wrong, what’s the purpose of this warning?
The AG urged the bench not to consider Bhushan’s reply.
However, Justice Mishra said: “How can the bench not consider the response? Moreover, everyone is criticising the judges that they haven’t considered his response which, according to the bench, is even more derogatory. Now if the bench removes it, it will be blamed for deleting it.”
The AG thereafter submitted that Bhushan has expressed regret in the 2009 matter.”Let him say this in the present matter too and say he expresses regret. That will be the statesmanship,” added the AG.
Justice Mishra then asked the AG to read Bhushan’s reply where he has said: “’Supreme Court has collapsed’. Isn’t that objectionable?” asked Justice Mishra.
He further said that Bhushan has made several disparaging remarks against this institution, judges of this court.
The AG, however, submitted that there will be no purpose served by inflicting punishment. Bhushan should be allowed to withdraw the affidavit.
Justice Mishra, however, inclined to consider the affidavit, said: “But they have been asking us to consider this.”
Dhavan thereafter said that the last order gives Bhushan time to submit an unconditional apology. If it is allowed it would look like as if a contemnor is coerced to give an apology so that it gets over.
On sentencing, Dhavan submitted that this isn’t an offender who doesn’t acknowledge his duty towards the court. He has contributed so much to this court.
Dhavan also gave his own example that he himself had described former CJI JS Khehar as a Sultan in the court and he demonstrated why and how. There was no contempt case against him.
Dhavan referring to his articles, books and comments asked the bench whether all that would mean scandalizing the court.
Dhavan also reminded Justice Mishra, who as a judge in the Calcutta High Court, let go of Mamata Banerjee after she said all judges were corrupt.
Dhavan pointed out: “This institution must have criticism, and not just criticism but extreme criticism. Your shoulders are broad enough.”
Dhavan further submitted that if Bhushan’s statement is read as a whole, it says he has highest regard for this institution, but he has his opinion about the last four CJIs and the manner in which this court has gone wrong. One criticizes the court when one feels sincere about the institution, Dhavan added.
He urged the bench to recall the judgement convicting Bhushan and not to coerce an apology from him. “A message that he should be little restrained in future should be enough”, he added.
While Dhavan urged the bench to hear Bhushan before pronouncing any order, Justice Mishra remarked: “Why to bother him if we have decided to punish him?”
Dhavan, however, prayed that Bhushan should not be made a martyr by punishing him, this controversy will continue depending on what punishment this court gives to him and the controversy will end only if this court shows statesmanship.
Justice Mishra thereafter said: “If the bar and the bench are going to destroy each other, who will have faith in this institution? Don’t just attack. Judges cannot go to the press to defend themselves. You, lawyers are our voice.”
Justice Mishra once again, pressing on an apology from Bhushan, said: “What is wrong in an apology? You have hurt someone. You must remove the hurt.”
Bhushan was held guilty of criminal contempt of court for his tweets against the Chief Justice Chief SA Bobde and against the former Chief Justices.
The bench, however, did not decide on the quantum of punishment for Bhushan while holding him guilty of contempt.
Order attached here;
-India Legal Bureau