What Happens In Prashant Bhushan’s Contempt Case After Guilty Verdict
The Supreme Court of India has held that Advocate Prashant Bhushan’s tweets on the current and the previous four chief justices of India were contempt of court. The top court will now decide the sentence.
The court held that Bhushan’s tweets were scurrilous and malicious attacks not only against one or two judges but the entire Supreme Court in its functioning in the last six years.
Convicted of criminal contempt, Bhushan now faces the prospect of punishment that, going by precedent, can include fine or jail or both. The power of the Supreme Court to punish for its contempt is derived from Article 129 of the Constitution of India and the Contempt of Court Act defines the limits. The maximum jail term is six months.
The top court will hear the arguments on deciding the punishment for Bhushan on Aug. 20.
Till now Bhushan has expressed regret only for the part of his June 27 tweet which referred to the Chief Justice of India not wearing a helmet, but he stood by the rest of his remark. Now that he has been convicted of contempt, there are multiple scenarios that can unfold on the day of the sentencing.
Bhushan can choose to apologise for his remarks. And if the bench finds his apology to be bona fide, the matter can be closed without any punishment for Bhushan.
But the court can also not find his apology to be bona fide, and go ahead with pronouncing the sentence.
In March 2019, the top court had found lawyer Matthews Nedumpara guilty of contempt and sentenced him to three months in prison. The sentence, however, was suspended on the condition that Nedumpara abided by the undertaking in his apology of not attempting to browbeat any judge in future. The court also barred Nedumpara from appearing in the Supreme Court for a year.
In Bhushan’s case, the bench also issued a notice to the Attorney General for India seeking his assistance in the case. The bench, however, has not yet sought the views of the Attorney General but has kept the option open. The court may choose to seek his view before deciding on the sentencing.
However, there have been instances where the bench decided to not agree with the Attorney General’s view and went ahead with punishment.
For instance, in March 2019, the top court found the then CBI Director M Nageshwara Rao and Additional Legal Adviser Bhasuran S guilty of contempt for transferring the officer investigating the Bihar shelter home case without the court’s knowledge. Rejecting the Attorney General’s request to spare the officers and that there was no wilful disobedience of the court’s order, it asked the two officers to sit in the courtroom until the conclusion of the day’s proceedings and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
Since the courts are functioning virtually, that is unlikely to happen. But if Bhushan does not apologise, the bench can decide to impose punishment including fine or a prison sentence.
There have been instances when the top court imposed the maximum jail sentence as in the case of Justice CS Karnan. A seven-judge bench of the top court, at the time, found Karnan’s utterances to be contempt of court and sentenced him to a six-month prison term. That made him the first sitting high court judge to go to jail for contempt of court.