SC Reserves Order On Bhushan’s Sentencing For Contempt, Seeks Apology

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, said the criticism of retired judges does not amount to contempt, and there are judgments to this effect.
Prashant Bhushan Lawyer
Prashant Bhushan Lawyer

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday gave lawyer Prashant Bhushan, convicted of contempt of court, time till August 24 to to submit an unconditional apology and asked him to reconsider his defiant statement declining to apologise for his derogatory tweets against the judiciary.

A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari said: “Appeal filed against the Registrar’s order is dismissed. Arguments have been heard in the main matter, on sentencing. Order reserved. We have given time to the contemnor (Bhushan) to submit unconditional apology, if he so desires. Let it be filed by August 24. In case, apology is submitted, the case to be posted for consideration on the same, on August 25.”

This came even as Attorney General K.K. Venugopal urged the apex court that convicting Bhushan in a contempt case was alright, but “do not punish him”.

At this, the bench told him that the tone, tenor, and content of Bhushan’s statement makes it worse. “Is it defence or aggravation, you, as AG, consider it,” it said.

Venugopal clarified that he was not speaking on behalf of the government but had responded to the notice issued to the constitutional office of the Attorney General of India.

“I make the request to your lordships not to punish him.”

The top court said a person should realise his mistake from the core of this heart.

In a statement, Bhushan insisted that his tweets were an expression of his beliefs and it was grossly misunderstood. Bhushan has been held guilty of contempt and can be sent to jail for six months.

The bench replied that it would never punish anyone for contempt. “Please don’t make any statement till you consider what he has said in his reply,” the bench told the AG.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, said the criticism of retired judges does not amount to contempt, and there are judgments to this effect.

As the AG contended that he has a list of five judges who talked about lack of democracy in the Supreme Court, and “I also have a list of nine judges who talked about judicial corruption”, Justice Mishra said: “We aren’t hearing a review. Our conviction order is already here.”

Justice Gavai observed that “we have said it earlier as well there has to be a mutual respect between the bar and the bench”.

Justice Mishra said that whatever has been done is done, and the court wants the person concerned to have a sense of remorse. “You may do hundreds of good things but that doesn’t give you a licence to do 10 crimes,” he said.

He also noted that if a person wants to purge the contempt, one should also know where to draw a line. He added that criminal contempt has far serious consequences, and the court can be very lenient when a person recognises his mistake and expresses regret.

Bhushan, in a statement before the top court, said: “My tweets were nothing but a small attempt to discharge what I considered to be my highest duty at this juncture in the history of our republic. I did not tweet in a fit of ‘absent mindedness’. It would be insincere and contemptuous on my part to offer an apology for the tweets that expressed what was and continues to be my bonafide belief. Therefore, I can only humbly paraphrase what the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi had said in his trial: ‘I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal to magnanimity. I am here, therefore, to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can lawfully be inflicted upon me for what the court has determined to be an offence, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen’.”

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