Supreme Court Reserves Order On Punishment For Prashant Bhushan
Protests outside the Supreme Court expressing solidarity with Prashant Bhushan, on Aug. 20, 2020. (Photo: PTI)

Supreme Court Reserves Order On Punishment For Prashant Bhushan

The Supreme Court reserved its judgment on punishment in the contempt case against Advocate Prashant Bhushan even as he didn't apologise for his tweets.

Attorney General for India and Senior Advocate KK Venugopal on Tuesday requested the court to let Bhushan go with a warning. He pointed out that statements on corruption in the judiciary or the court having failed democracy have also been made by others, including former judges of the top court, according to a report by Live Law.

"These statements are telling the court to reform the court. They seek the improvement of the administration of justice," the report quoted the attorney general as saying. He asked the court to take a compassionate view, saying that Bhushan should withdraw his allegations and must be given one more chance to express regret.

Venugopal highlighted an earlier instance where he himself sought initiation of contempt proceedings against Bhushan but subsequently withdrew the request after Bhushan expressed regret. The bench, according to Bar & Bench, underscored that the case was withdrawn after Bhushan expressed regret, something he’s declined to do in the present case.

The bench had found Bhushan guilty of contempt on Aug 14, after initiating suo motu contempt proceedings over his two tweets. The top court on Aug. 20 granted Bhushan time to apologise for his tweets and reconsider the statement made during the hearing. Bhushan declined to do either.

In his statements before the apex court, Bhushan maintained that his tweets were his bona fide expression and he continues to hold the court in high esteem. "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 in his written statement.

During the hearing on Tuesday, the bench pointed to the practice of petitions appearing in the press even before the court takes them up. Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan, appearing for Bhushan, agreed that this should not be done.

Dhawan, highlighting his own articles and books, emphasised that there should be fair criticism of the court, and said the court must have broad shoulders to take criticism. He cited another case when Justice Arun Mishra, then as a judge in the Calcutta High Court, let off Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in a contempt case against her.

The bench responded by saying that it is not against fair criticism but it was pained by the statements and tweets of Bhushan. Dhawan informed the court that Bhushan’s replies were filed to defend his case in the contempt proceedings. The Attorney General requested to remove the replies from the record, which the bench declined.

"....if you read the tweets and his statements, it is painful to read. This is not what is expected from a senior member like Prashant Bhushan. And it is not just him, this has become very common now," said the bench referring to Bhushan’s statements during the hearing.

Justice Mishra highlighted that the judges of the court cannot go to the press to defend allegations made against them. ‘’Now I'm demitting office, I'll never go to press. Can we go to press, we cannot go to press, that is the ethics we have to maintain,’’ Bar and Bench reported Justice Mishra’s as saying.

He also pointed out that in spite of live reporting from court often being one-sided and incorrect in certain cases, the court hasn’t taken any action.

The Supreme Court didn't fix a date for pronouncing its order but since Justice Mishra retires on Sept. 2, the judgment is expected on or before his last day in office.

With inputs from Live Law and Bar & Bench.

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