Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was last week held guilty of contempt for his tweets about Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the judiciary, on Thursday told the Supreme Court that he was pained by its judgement against him. Bhushan added that he had been “grossly misunderstood” by the court and was only discharging his duty by criticising the judiciary.
“I am pained that I have been held guilty of committing contempt of the Court whose majesty I have tried to uphold,” Bhushan said in his statement to the top court, during a hearing to decide the quantum of his sentence. “I am pained not because I may be punished, but because I have been grossly misunderstood.”
Bhushan added that the court held him guilty of contempt without giving evidence of his intentions behind the tweets. “I am shocked that the court holds me guilty of ‘malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack’ on the institution of administration of justice,” Bhushan said. “I am dismayed that the court has arrived at this conclusion without any evidence of my motives to launch such an attack. I must confess that I am disappointed that the court did not find it necessary to serve me with a copy of the complaint on the basis of which the suo moto notice was issued.”
Bhushan repeated that his tweets criticising the judiciary were his bonafide beliefs. “I believe that an open criticism of any institution is necessary in a democracy, to safeguard the constitutional order,” Bhushan told the top court. “Failing to speak up would have been a dereliction of duty, especially for an officer of the court like myself.”
The senior advocate told the court that his tweets were not absent-minded. “I 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,” Bhushan said.
The top court, meanwhile, gave Bhushan two days to reconsider his statement. “We can give you time and it is better if you consider it,” Justice Arun Mishra told Bhushan. “You think over it, we will give you 2-3 days time.”
On Wednesday, Bhushan had moved the Supreme Court seeking to defer Thursday’s proceedings to announce his punishment till a review petition was filed and considered. In his application, the lawyer said he wanted to file a review petition after seeking legal counsel and studying the August 14 order in detail. Bhushan also pointed out that the court can stay contempt verdicts when such review pleas are pending. Failing to provide a chance for the lawyer to file a review plea would be in violation of his fundamental rights, the application said.
In the August 14 verdict, the court had said the magnanimity of judges cannot be stretched to the extent that it “may amount to weakness in dealing with a malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack” on the judiciary. This was in response to Bhushan’s statement that that the judges needed to be magnanimous and not use the contempt of court law for remarks on individual judges or on fair criticism of the judiciary. The court, however, said allegations against the Supreme Court may lead to a loss of faith in the judiciary and of confidence among other judges.
Following the judgement, more than 3,000 members of civil society including former judges, retired bureaucrats, journalists and lawyers criticised the Supreme Court’s order. The signatories said that expressing concern about the functioning of the judiciary was the fundamental right of every citizen. The signatories included former Supreme Court judges Ruma Pal, B Sudershan Reddy, Madan B Lokur, activist Harsh Mander and historian Romila Thapar.
Over 1,800 members of the bar have also criticised the Supreme Court’s decision, besides Opposition leaders, lawyers, and human rights organisations. But, the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution to support the Supreme Court’s decision to hold lawyer Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt.
Here is the full text of Bhushan’s statement to the top court:
I have gone through the judgment of this Hon’ble Court. I am pained that I have been held guilty of committing contempt of the Court whose majesty I have tried to uphold – not as a courtier or cheerleader but as a humble guard – for over three decades, at some personal and professional cost. I am pained, not because I may be punished, but because I have been grossly misunderstood.
I am shocked that the court holds me guilty of “malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack” on the institution of administration of justice. I am dismayed that the Court has arrived at this conclusion without providing any evidence of my motives to launch such an attack. I must confess that I am disappointed that the court did not find it necessary to serve me with a copy of the complaint on the basis of which the suo motu notice was issued, nor found it necessary to respond to the specific averments made by me in my reply affidavit or the many submissions of my counsel.
I find it hard to believe that the Court finds my tweet “has the effect of destabilizing the very foundation of this important pillar of Indian democracy”. I can only reiterate that these two tweets represented my bonafide beliefs, the expression of which must be permissible in any democracy. Indeed, public scrutiny is desirable for healthy functioning of judiciary itself.
I believe that open criticism of any institution is necessary in a democracy, to safeguard the constitutional order. We are living through that moment in our history when higher principles must trump routine obligations, when saving the constitutional order must come before personal and professional niceties, when considerations of the present must not come in the way of discharging our responsibility towards the future.
Failing to speak up would have been a dereliction of duty, especially for an officer of the court like myself. 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 absence 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.