New Delhi: A Supreme Court bench on Tuesday reserved its judgement on the sentencing of Prashant Bhushan in the suo motu contempt of court case in which the activist-lawyer has been held guilty. On Monday, Bhushan in a statement declined to “reconsider” his statement in which he had refused to apologise for his tweets, saying that those were “constructive criticism” of the judiciary.
On Tuesday, the SC bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra, including Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, heard advocate Rajiv Dhavan on behalf of Bhushan at length.
Reserving the judgement, Justice Mishra said: “Tell us, what is wrong in using the word apology? What is wrong in seeking apology? Will that be reflection of guilt? Apology is a magical word, which can heal many things. I am talking generally and not talking about Prashant,” as quoted by LiveLaw.
Earlier, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal had submitted before the bench that his suggestion would be to close the matter without punishing Bhushan.
Arguing in favour of Bhushan, advocate Dhavan had submitted that he himself had written about a thousand articles, of which a majority pertained to the apex court. He said in some articles, he had written that Supreme Court had a “middle class temperament,” asking if that qualified for contempt. He said Bhushan’s views had been expressed by many former judges too.
Dhavan reminded Justice Mishra that when he was Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, “your Lordships did not initiate contempt against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for her comments that judges are corrupt,” said the report.
He also argued that the judgement on the conviction of Bhushan contained “half-truths and contradictions”, adding that the SC order giving time to Bhushan to apologise gave the impression of being an “exercise in coercion.”
On Monday, Bhushan in a supplementary statement had said that an “insincere apology would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution.”
On August 20, the top court had granted time till August 24 to Bhushan to reconsider his “defiant statement” refusing to apologise and tender “unconditional apology” for contemptuous tweets against the judiciary and rejected his submission that quantum of punishment be decided by another bench, according to PTI.
Bhushan had said as an officer of court he believes as a duty to speak up when he believes there is a deviation from its sterling record.
“Therefore I expressed myself in good faith, not to malign the Supreme Court or any particular Chief Justice, but to offer constructive criticism so that the court can arrest any drift away from its long-standing role as a guardian of the Constitution and custodian of peoples’ rights,” he said.
Bhushan said he believed the Supreme Court was the last bastion of hope for the protection of fundamental rights, the watchdog institutions and indeed for constitutional democracy itself.
The apex court on August 14 had held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary saying they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
He faces simple imprisonment of up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both as punishment.
Several former judges, civil servants, academics and civil society members have come in support of Bhushan.
“Under Article 145 (3) of the Constitution of India, there shall be a quorum of minimum five Judges for deciding any case involving substantial questions of law as to the interpretation of the Constitution. In both the suo motu contempt cases, in view of the substantial questions of law on the interpretation of the Constitution of India and having serious repercussions on the fundamental rights, the matters require to be heard by a Constitution Bench,” retired Justice Kurian Joseph had said in a statement.
(inputs from PTI).