Advocate Prashant Bhushan on Monday refused to apologise to the Supreme Court or retract his statements about the judiciary, Live Law reported. Bhushan said retracting his statement or offering an insincere apology would amount to “contempt of my conscience”.

On August 20, the Supreme Court had rejected Bhushan’s request to adjourn the hearing on the quantum of punishment in a suo motu criminal contempt case in which he was convicted last week and transfer it to another bench. The court gave the lawyer two to three days to reconsider his statements about the court and chief justice.

In a supplementary statement before the court on Monday, Bhushan said that an apology for expressing his bonafide beliefs would be insincere. “An apology cannot be a mere incantation and any apology has to, as the court has itself put it, be made sincerely,” Bhushan said. “This is especially so when I have made the statements bonafide and pleaded truths with full detail which have not been dealt with by the court.”

“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,” Bhushan said.

Bhushan added that he has the highest regard for the institution of the Supreme Court. “I believe that the Supreme Court is the last bastion of hope for the protection of fundamental rights, the watchdog institutions and indeed for constitutional democracy itself,” he said. “Today in these troubling times, the hopes of the people of India vest in this court to ensure the rule of law and the Constitution and not an untrammeled rule of the executive.”

Bhushan said he made the offending tweets in good faith, with the intention of offering constructive criticism of the judiciary, and not to malign the Supreme Court or “any particular Chief Justice”.

The case

The case pertains to two tweets of Bhushan’s from June 27 and June 29. The first tweet commented about an undeclared emergency and the role of Supreme Court and last four chief justices of India. The second tweet was about Chief Justice SA Bobde trying a Harley Davidson superbike in his hometown Nagpur during the coronavirus outbreak.

On August 19, Bhushan had moved the Supreme Court seeking to defer the next day’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.

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. Over 1,800 members of the bar have also criticised the Supreme Court’s decision, besides Opposition leaders, lawyers, and human rights organisations.