Supreme Court closes 2009 contempt case against Bhushan, Tejpal
In August 2020, Bhushan had expressed regret over his remarks against country’s former 16 chief justices of India and said, “In my interview to Tehelka in 2009, I have used the word ‘corruption’ in a wide sense meaning lack of propriety."
The Supreme Court on Tuesday closed contempt proceedings against advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal by accepting their apologies over a 2009 interview where the lawyer had alleged that half of the country’s former 16 chief justices of India (CJI) were corrupt.
Ending the 13-year old case, a bench of justices Indira Banerjee, Surya Kant and MM Sundresh said, “In view of the apology tendered by the respondents, it is not necessary for us to continue with the proceedings.”
In August 2020, Bhushan had expressed regret over his remarks against the judges and said, “In my interview to Tehelka in 2009, I have used the word ‘corruption’ in a wide sense meaning lack of propriety. I did not mean only financial corruption or deriving any pecuniary advantage. If what I have said caused hurt to any of them or to their families in any way, I regret the same.”
Even Tejpal offered an apology for publishing the interview. Bhushan had further stated that he had no intention to lower the prestige of the judiciary, in which he had complete faith. “I regret if my interview was misunderstood as doing so, that is, lower the reputation of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, which could never have been my intention at all,” his statement said.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal and advocate Kamini Jaiswal, appearing for both Bhushan and Tejpal said on Tuesday, “Now the apology has been tendered. Nothing remains in this matter.”
The bench accepted Sibal’s statement and brought the matter to a close.
The top court had taken offence to Bhushan’s claims from the interview published on September 5, 2009. Senior advocate Harish Salve had offered to file a contempt petition in the matter. In November 2009, notices were issued to Bhushan and Tejpal on the contempt petition filed by Salve, who assisted the Court as amicus curiae (friend of court).
In the interview, Bhushan had alleged that half of past 16 CJIs were corrupt. The matter took an interesting turn when Bhushan’s father and former Union law minister, Shanti Bhushan, had filed an intervention in the case and produced evidence of corruption against the judges in question in a sealed cover. He even offered to go to jail if his son was punished for contempt. His application was not entertained and hence the sealed cover has never been opened till date.
The top court had earlier refused to accept the “regret” offered by Bhushan. However, the contemnors wanted the matter to be sent to a Constitution Bench. The senior lawyer had even framed five issues, the important among them being, “Whether the expression of a bona fide opinion about the extent of corruption in any section of the judiciary would amount to contempt of court.” And If yes, “Whether the person who expresses such opinion…is obliged to prove that his opinion is correct or whether it is enough to show that he bona fide held that opinion.”
Bhushan’s brush with contempt is not new. In 2020, he ran into trouble for his tweets of June 7 and June 29 on which Supreme Court issued contempt notices. In one of the tweets, he targeted the then chief justice of India, SA Bobde, sitting on a motorcycle and accused him of shutting down courts for the common man. In the other tweet, he accused the judiciary of destroying democracy without a formal Emergency. He was convicted in the matter on August 30, 2020 and asked to pay a fine of ₹1.