The Supreme Court will on Monday pronounce the sentencing in the contempt of court case against advocate Prashant Bhushan for his tweets on the judiciary, the Hindustan Times reported on Saturday. The judgement is expected around 10.30 am. The court had reserved its verdict on Tuesday after back-and-forth arguments as Bhushan refused to apologise.
Bhushan was held guilty of contempt of court on August 14. The case pertains to two tweets posted by Bhushan on June 27 and 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.
The Supreme Court had on Tuesday said it was “painful” to read advocate Prashant Bhushan’s statements and justifications in connection with the case. “This is not the way a senior lawyer like Bhushan over 30 years of experience should behave,” Justice Arun Mishra observed.
During Tuesday’s hearing, advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Bhushan, had said that Bhushan was not trying to suggest that the top court did not work, but was “commenting on the prioritisation of cases”. He had added that the Supreme Court “will collapse if it does not face severe criticism”.
The advocate had added that the top court’s August 20 order that stated it will only accept an “unconditional apology” from Bhushan was “an exercise of coercion”. On August 20, the Supreme Court had rejected Bhushan’s request to adjourn the hearing on the quantum of punishment in the case and transfer it to another bench. The court had given the lawyer two to three days to reconsider his statements about the court and chief justice.
Dhavan had urged the court to not “make Bhushan a martyr” and had asked it to let off Bhushan with a warning. Attorney General KK Venugopal had also agreed that Bhushan should be let go with a warning.
Justice Mishra had asked what was wrong in seeking an apology. “Tell us, what is wrong in using the word apology?” he asked. “Will that be reflection of guilt? Apology is a magical word, which can heal many things... If you have hurt anybody, you must apply balm. One should not feel belittled by that.”
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.
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.
Bhushan told the top court on August 24 that his tweets were a constructive criticism of the judiciary and that retracting his statement or offering an insincere apology would amount to “contempt of my conscience”. “An apology cannot be a mere incantation and any apology has to, as the court has itself put it, be made sincerely,” Bhushan had 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.”
Following the August 14 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.
Meanwhile, the top court Tuesday also referred a 2009 contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan to an “appropriate bench” that will take up the matter on September 10. The case is related to Bhushan’s interview to Tehelka magazine 11 years ago in which he made allegations of corruption in the Supreme Court and said half of the previous 16 chief justices were corrupt. The contempt of court case was filed by advocate Harish Salve.