Prashant Bhushan contempt case: 'Show remorse,' says court; tweets expressed my bonafide belief, argues lawyer

Prashant Bhushan told SC that he did not tweet in 'absence mindedness' and it would be insincere and contemptuous on his part to offer an apology for the tweets that expressed what was and continues to be his bona fide belief

FP Staff August 20, 2020 15:22:09 IST
Prashant Bhushan contempt case: 'Show remorse,' says court; tweets expressed my bonafide belief, argues lawyer

The Supreme Court Thursday granted activist and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan two days to reconsider his statements — which have been held contemptuous by court — and apologise. The lawyer has, however, refused the offer stating that his statements "are well considered and well thought of," Live Law reported.

Justice Arun Mishra, who is also heading the Bench that heard contempt case against Bhushan, said: "There is no person on Earth who cannot commit a mistake. You may do hundreds good things but that doesn't give you a license to do 10 crimes. Whatever has been done is done. But we want the person concerned to have a sense of remorse."

"We can be lenient when the contemnor realises his mistake and apologises," the bench was quoted as saying by Bar and Bench.

The court had met to decide on the quantum of punishment for Bhushan, who has been held guilty of contempt of court.

Bhushan, however, in a statement during the course of the hearing that he stands by his comments and does not wish to retract them merely to avoid punishment.

He said that he did not tweet in "absence mindedness" and it would be insincere and contemptuous on his part to offer an apology for the tweets that expressed what was and continues to be his bona fide belief.

Bhushan, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, said: "I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal for magnanimity. I cheerfully submit to any punishment that the court may impose..,"

Bhushan told the bench, also comprising Justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, that he has gone through the 14 August judgment of the Court and was pained that he has been held guilty of committing contempt of the Court whose majesty he has tried to uphold — not as a courtier or cheerleader but as a humble guard — for over three decades, at some personal and professional cost.

"I am pained, not because I may be punished, but because I have been grossly misunderstood," he said.

The activist-lawyer said, "I am shocked that the court holds me guilty of malicious, scurrilous, calculated attack on the institution of administration of justice. I am dismayed that the Court has arrived at this conclusion without providing any evidence of my motives to launch such an attack."

Meanwhile, Attorney General KK Venugopal also appealed in favour of Bhushan arguing that his statements were no different from what many others have already observed.

"I have a list of nine judges who had said that there is corruption in the higher levels of judiciary, five judges who had observed that democracy is under threat, which is what Bhushan said. I had myself said in 1987..." Venugopal sought to argue but was interrupted by the bench. The court reminded Venugopal that he was not arguing on the 'merits of the case' but on the quantum of punishment, as per Bar and Bench.

The top court on 14 August held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his 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. A contemnor can be punished with simple imprisonment of up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both.

Earlier in the day, the court had also rejected the submission of Bhushan's advocates that another bench hear the arguments on quantum of sentence in the contempt case in which he has been held guilty for derogatory tweets against the judiciary. Advocate Dushyant Dave had sought deferment of hearing on the quantum of sentence in the case saying that he would be filing a review petition against the conviction order."

The bench, however, denied the plea assuring Bhushan that no punishment will be acted upon till his review against the order convicting him in the case is decided.

The bench, also comprising Justices BR Gavi and Krishna Murari, told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing Bhushan that he is asking them to commit an "act of impropriety" by saying that the argument on sentencing be heard by another bench.

Interestingly, the bench also remarked that perhaps the contemnor is waiting for 'one of the judges to retire' before they file the review petition, suggesting that perhaps Bhushan's attorneys were seeking a more favourable bench.

Dave, however, said that it is a statutory right of the petitioner to file a review within 30 days of the order and it has nothing to do with Justice Mishra's retirement — which is due on 2 September.

The bench said it is not inclined to hear the application filed by Bhushan on Wednesday seeking deferment of hearing on the sentence till his review petition is decided.

During the hearing, on Thursday, Dave told the bench that 'heavens are not going to fall' if the apex court will suspend the hearing on quantum of sentence.

"You are asking us to commit an act of impropriety that arguments on sentencing should be heard by another bench," the bench said
It added: "Has it been ever done that hearing on sentencing has been undertaken by the other bench when the main bench is existing?"

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan,  however argued that he is against any such deferment.

"I am not in support of this deferment. I just want to say, at the Bar, we take our Judges as they come, we don't go Bench hunting. It is immaterial if a judge is retiring," Dhavan said.

On 14 August, in its 108-page verdict, the top court had said: "The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing criminal contempt. In the result, we hold alleged contemnor No.1 - Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of having committed criminal contempt of this Court."

The top court had, however, discharged the notice issued to Twitter Inc, California, USA in the contempt case after accepting its explanation that it is only an intermediary and does not have any control on what the users post on the platform.

It had said the company has also shown its bona fides immediately after the cognizance was taken by this Court as it has suspended both the tweets.

The top court had analysed the two tweets of Bhushan posted on the micro-blogging site on 27 June on the functioning of judiciary in past six years, and on 22 July with regard to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde.

"In our considered view, it cannot be said that the tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest," it had said.

With inputs from PTI

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