Advocate Prashant Bhushan on Monday deposited at the Supreme Court Registry the Re 1 fine that the top court had imposed on him after finding him guilty of contempt of court over two tweets, Live Law reported. However, Bhushan said the payment of the fine did not indicate that he had accepted the Supreme Court’s judgement and filed a review petition against his conviction.
“Me paying the fine of Re 1 does not mean that I accept the Supreme Court’s judgment,” Bhushan told reporters. “I am filing a review petition in the Supreme Court today.”
Bhushan added that the contributions he had received from various quarters across the country towards the token fine will go into building a “truth fund” that will help provide legal aide to those who have been detained or arrested over voicing dissent. “The state is using all means to silence voices of dissent,” he said. “The ‘truth fund’ will be used to protect the personal liberty to those persons who face the state’s persecution.”
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.
In his plea, 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”. Bhushan also requested the court that his appeal be heard by a larger and different bench.
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 of rules and guidelines “providing for intra-court appeal against conviction in original criminal contempt cases”.
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 another 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.