NEW DELHI, AUGUST 25—While the Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its judgement on the quantum of punishment to be given to advocate Prasahnt Bhushan convicted in a criminal contempt of court case pertaining to two of his tweets in June this year, there were strong exchanges between Bhushan’s lawyer Rajeev Dhawan, Attorney General K K Venugopal and the Supreme Court judges.
As soon as the proceedings began, Venugopal appealed to the SC to forgive Bhushan by taking a “compassionate view”, Bhushan’s lawyer Rajeev Dhavan said that the judgement convicting Bhushan be recalled and no punishment be given to his client.
Bhushan on Monday had refused to tender an apology saying that two of his tweets “represented a bonafide belief that I continue to hold” and “an apology for expression of these beliefs, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere” and “contempt of my conscience”.
While one of the tweets was about a photo of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on a luxury motorcycle, the other tweet was on the role of four retired judges.
Exchanges between Rajeev Dhawan, AG KK Venugopal and the Supreme Court bench:
This (Prashant Bhushan) isn’t an offender who doesn’t acknowledge his duty towards the court. He has contributed so much to this court. The Attorney General is right in pointing that out… I have been writing on the Supreme Court for a long time. Even when a certain Chief Justice of India retired, I had written how he was acting like a sultan and no contempt was taken… The offence of scandalising is very vague… This institution must take criticism, and not just criticism but extreme criticism. Your shoulders are broad enough.
If we read the last order that we give him time to submit an unconditional apology, it looks like as if a contemnor is coerced to give an apology so that it gets over. No court can pass an order like this. It was an exercise in coercion. This is wrong jurisprudence… This is not what the Supreme Court does, ‘We give you so many days, give an apology’. An apology cannot be a mere incantation. An apology has to be sincerely made and he (Prashant Bhushan) sincerely says that ‘This is my belief’… If I am indicted for contempt tomorrow, what do you expect me to do? Not raise a defence?
About his (Prashant Bhushan) tweet on retired judges, can anything be said whether whatever has been said is correct or not? We cannot possibly go into this aspect without the views of those judges. That would mean an inquiry which will go and on. Prashant Bhushan can’t be punished till this inquiry concludes. So my suggestion would be to give a quietus to this matter without getting into that exercise.
Bhushan may be given a warning and need not be punished, a warning to tell him ‘Don’t repeat this in future’. Bhushan’s tweets seek the improvement of the administration of justice. Bhushan can be told not to repeat this and not given punishment… I myself wanted to file a contempt case against Prashant Bhushan when two CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) officers were fighting and he said I fabricated documents. But after he expressed regret, I withdrew. Let democracy follow in this case when he has exercised his free speech… It will be tremendously appreciated if the court leaves it at that. Even if he says he hasn’t done anything wrong, this court should take a compassionate view. I speak for the Bar also… Although it is too late for him to go back on what he has said, he can still express regret.
It was painful to read his (Prashant Bhushan’s) reply in justification of his tweets. It was absolutely improper. This is not what is expected from a senior member like Prashant Bhushan. And it is not just him; this has become very common now… I belong to an old class. I have reprimanded lawyers for going to the press in pending cases. There is a difference between an officer of the court and a politician. If you are going to the press for everything, you are over identifying without your causes… If someone with a standing of 30 years, like Prashant Bhushan, says something, people tend to believe him. They will think whatever he is saying is correct. Had it been someone else, it was easier to ignore but when Bhushan says something, it has some effect… You have to differentiate somewhere. Fair criticism is not a problem; it is for the benefit of the institution. You are part of the system; you cannot destroy the system. We have to respect each other. If we are going to destroy each other, who will have faith in this institution? You have to be tolerant, see what the court is doing and why. Don’t just attack. Judges can’t go to press to defend themselves or explain.