The Supreme Court on Monday will pronounce its sentence for lawyer Prashant Bhushan in a contempt of court case, NDTV reported. Ahead of the order, 122 law students from across India have written to Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde and other Supreme Court judges to reconsider the judgement holding Bhushan guilty of contempt for his tweets criticising Bobde and the top court.

Bhushan has, despite multiple Supreme Court exhortations, refused to apologise for his remarks. In the letter, the 122 law students made an emotional appeal to Bobde and the other judges, PTI reported. “The judiciary ought to reply for criticism by the restoration of public confidence,” the letter said. “The judiciary ought to reply for criticism by changing its case. The judiciary ought not to charge for contempt of court when criticism arises out of anguish and love for justice, from a person aiding in the profoundness of the same justice he asks for others.”

The letter said that for years, Bhushan has fought in the courts for transparency, accountability, environmental protection, human rights and against corruption. Bhushan’s contribution to the legal fraternity and to nation-building is cherished by all in the fraternity, it said.

The letter disagreed that Bhushan’s two tweets hurt the sanctity of the court. Instead, they said, they represented the voices of the marginalised and voiceless community.

“I quite realise how hard it is to resist, with sage silence, the shafts of acid speech: and, how alluring it is to succumb to the temptation of argumentation where the thorn, not the rose, triumphs,” the letter said quoting a judgement by retired Justice VK Iyer. “In contempt jurisdiction, silence is a sign of strength since our power is wide and we are prosecutor and judge.” The law students said that to criticise the judiciary fairly was not a crime but a necessary right in a democracy.

The case

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 August 25 said it was “painful” to read 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.

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”.

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.