Advocate Prashant Bhushan moved the Supreme Court on Saturday, seeking the right to appeal against his conviction in a contempt case last month over his tweets criticising the judiciary, Live Law reported. Bhushan also requested the court that his appeal be heard by a larger and different bench.
Bhushan argued that the right to appeal was a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution and international laws. He added that the appeal would act as a “vital safeguard against wrongful conviction and would truly enable the provision of truth as a defence”.
The advocate told the top court that the right to appeal in a contempt case would reduce the likelihood of arbitrary decisions. “Considering the fact there is inherent unavoidable conflict of interest and the fact that liberty of the alleged contemnor is at stake, it is of utmost importance that certain basic safeguards are designed which would reduce (though not obviate) chances of arbitrary, vengeful and high handed decisions,” Bhushan said in his petition.
Bhushan said that the Supreme Court acts as “prosecutor, the witness and the judge” in cases of contempt. “As a judge the power of the Supreme Court to convict and sentence the accused is unlimited and arbitrary,” he was quoted as saying by PTI. “No one can be at once a suitor and a judge. Thus, there is a need for an intra-court appeal.”
He added: “It is extremely important to minimise such decisions since they not only cause great injustice to the alleged contemnor, but also bring disrepute to the court itself and are likely to be harshly judged by legal historians.”
Bhushan also sought the framing rules and guidelines “providing for intra-court appeal against conviction in original criminal contempt cases”.
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According to the current rules, a person found guilty of criminal contempt can file a review petition against the judgement. The petition is, however, decided by a bench in the chambers, often without hearing the person.
The case against Bhushan was based on two tweets from June. In one tweet, he made a remark about an undeclared emergency and the role of the 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 31, a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra had ordered Bhushan to pay Re 1 as fine in the case.
The advocate is also facing a second contempt case. It relates to an interview Bhushan gave to the Tehelka magazine in 2009, in which he made allegations of corruption in the Supreme Court and said that half of the previous 16 chief justices were corrupt. On Thursday, the top court sought assistance from Attorney General KK Venugopal in case and deferred the hearing to October 12.