Supreme Court order on Prashant Bhushan contempt case sentencing on Monday

According to the Contempt of Courts Act, the offence of criminal contempt carries a punishment of up to six months in prison or a fine up to Rs 2,000 or both
Prashant Bhushan(Hindustan Times)
Prashant Bhushan(Hindustan Times)
Updated on Aug 29, 2020 07:21 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByMurali Krishnan | Edited by Arpan Rai

The Supreme Court will, on Monday, pronounce its verdict on the sentence to be awarded to advocate Prashant Bhushan after it had held him guilty of criminal contempt of court on August 14 for his two tweets against the apex court and Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde.

The bench, headed by justice Arun Mishra, will pronounce the judgment at 10.30 am.

According to the Contempt of Courts Act, the offence of criminal contempt carries a punishment of up to six months in prison or a fine up to Rs 2,000 or both. The court has also, in previous instances, barred lawyers found guilty of contempt from practising before the court for a limited period while refraining from imposing any jail sentence.

Bhushan had an opportunity to apologise for his tweets and express regret, but the activist lawyer stood his ground and stated that his tweets were based on his bonafide beliefs and an apology for his views, which be believed to be true, would be insincere.

The court had reserved its judgment on August 25.

The activist lawyer had posted two tweets, one against the Supreme Court on June 27 and another against CJI Bobde on June 29.

Bhushan’s first tweet said: “When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction, and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs.”

The second tweet referred to CJI Bobde and said: “The CJI rides a Rs 50-lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without wearing a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC on lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!”

The top court took note of the tweets after Mehek Maheshwari, an advocate, filed a petition before it on July 9 seeking initiation of contempt of court proceedings against Bhushan for the tweets. Maheswhari’s petition did not have the consent of Attorney General, a prerequisite under the Contempt of Courts Act for the apex court to entertain criminal contempt petitions filed by private individuals.

The court, however, registered a suo motu (on its own) case based on Maheshwari’s petition and issued notice to Bhushan on July 22.

The court then heard the matter on August 5 and held Bhushan to be guilty of a contempt of court in a judgment delivered on August 14. It then posted the case for hearing on August 20 to decide the sentence to be given to Bhushan.

During the hearing on August 20, Bhushan maintained that he was standing by his tweets and also read out a statement prepared by him in which he expressed dismay at the judgment of August 14 which he said arrived at a conclusion against him without providing any evidence of his motives. He invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s stance in a case slapped against the father of the nation by the British government.

“I can only humbly paraphrase what the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi had said in his trial: I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal to magnanimity. I am here, therefore, to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can lawfully be inflicted upon me for what the court has determined to be an offence, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen,” Bhushan read out from his statement.

The court had then asked Bhushan to think over his stance and get back to it.

Later, Bhushan submitted another supplementary statement before the court on August 24 in which he continued to stick to his tweets saying they were in good faith and not intended to malign the court or the CJI but only offered constructive criticism so that the court can arrest any drift away from its long-standing role as a guardian of the Constitution.

Interestingly, Attorney General KK Venugopal, who had appeared in the case in his personal capacity at the court’s request, asked the court not to punish Bhushan and instead let him off with a warning.

“Your Lordships should reprimand him and tell him not to repeat it in future. But do not punish him. It will be greatly appreciated at the Bar. That will be a fitting end to this case,” he said.

The bench, however, pointed out that Bhushan has declined to apologise and has also filed statements sticking to his stance. “We have given him time to think it over. He says he is not ready to apologise. “Tells us what is wrong in using the word ‘apology’? Is it a reflection of guilt? It is a magical word which can heal. If you have hurt someone, you should apologise. There is no need to feel belittled by that,” justice Mishra said.

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Thursday, June 30, 2022