'Recall Prashant Bhushan contempt verdict': Ahead of SC decision on quantum of sentence, 122 students pen open letter

Bhushan, who was convicted for contempt of court on 14 August over his tweets criticising the judiciary, is facing imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or both under the Contempt of Court Act.

FP Staff August 30, 2020 15:20:46 IST
'Recall Prashant Bhushan contempt verdict': Ahead of SC decision on quantum of sentence, 122 students pen open letter

A day before the Supreme Court is slated to pronounce its decision on the quantum of sentence for Prashant Bhushan, who was convicted for contempt of court, 122 students have penned an open letter to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justice Arun Mishra seeking that the judgment be reconsidered, according to several media reports.

Bhushan, who was convicted for contempt of court on 14 August over his tweets criticising the judiciary, is facing imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or both under the Contempt of Court Act.

Justice Mishra, who is demitting office on 2 September, will head the bench that is set to pronounce the quantum of sentence tomorrow.

As per Bar&Bench, 78 law students and 44 students from streams ranging from engineering to fashion, in the letter, describing themselves as "vigilant", said they were "disheartened witnessing the way our Supreme Court reacted" to two tweets from Bhushan.

The students, in their letter, also expressed their consternation at three incidents that occurred during the proceedings against Bhushan: the recalling of the 2009 contempt case and then it relisting it; the deletion of the case regarding the constitutional challenge to the provisions of contempt law from the list of the court presided by Justice DY Chandrachud and the suo motu cognisance in the contempt case against Bhushan through a poor petition without "sound legal reasoning" over two tweets.

All this occurring during a pandemic when the marginalised and voiceless are awaiting justice in many cases "raises our doubts on intention of the judiciary", the students wrote, as per Bar&Bench.

The students further said that fair criticism is part of free speech and the judiciary ought not to take offence but rather respond by "restoring public confidence and changing course", as per LiveLaw.

"The judiciary ought to reply for criticism by restoration of public confidence. The judiciary ought to reply for criticism by changing its course. The judiciary ought not to charge for contempt when criticism arises out of anguish and love for justice, from a person aiding in profoundness of the same justice he asks for others," the students wrote in the letter, as per LiveLaw.

Recalling the apex court's remarks in Re S. Mulgaokar [AIR 1978 SC 727] that judges should not be "hypersensitive" even where distortions and criticisms overstep the limits, they wrote: "The Supreme Court seems to have weak albeit broad shoulder for social media opinions [sic]. It feels scandalised for being fiercely criticised by one of its own whose real motive is for judicial reforms. There is only so much left to say that hasn't already been said by the charged person himself but the hope of imploring the court is still prevalent among some of us."

The court was on 25 August, after Bhushan rejected fresh suggestions from the court for an apology, urged to recall the verdict by his lawyer who who urged the apex court to show "judicial statesmanship" and not make Bhushan a "martyr" by punishing him.

Attorney General KK Venugopal also requested the court to forgive Bhushan with a message that he should not repeat this act.

Bhushan on 24 August, filing a supplementary reply to the Supreme Court, said an insincere apology would amount to the 'contempt of my conscience and of an institution'.

Bhushan, on 20 August, after the Supreme Court rejected his plea that the arguments on quantum of sentence be heard by another top court bench, said his tweets were "nothing but a small attempt to discharge" what he considered to be his "highest duty at this juncture in the history of our republic."

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Bhushan said ' I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal to magnanimity'.

Bhushan had, on 20 August, been granted time till 24 August to reconsider his his “defiant statement” refusing to apologise and tender “unconditional apology” for contemptuous tweets against the judiciary.

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 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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