- Supreme Court passes verdict on Prashant Bhushan contempt of court case
- The lawyer-activist has been fined Re 1 with the option of 3 months in prison and 3 year ban
- The jail and ban will be exercised if he fails to pay fine
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan has been held guilty in the contempt of court case for his tweets in which he criticised the Chief Justice of India S A Bobde along with the Supreme Court of India.
The top court has imposed a fine of Re. 1 on the lawyer and if he fails to pay this fine by the 15th of September, he can face prison time of 3 months along with a ban from practising for 3 years.
The Supreme Court said, “Freedom of speech cannot be curtailed,” while handing down the sentence, and referred to “sane advice” from the Attorney General K K Venugopal to the court and to Prashant Bhushan.
Prashant Bhushan was photographed holding up a 1 rupee coin, and saying he would reveal later today whether he would pay the fine or confront the other options.
The 63 year old had tweeted, “My lawyer & senior colleague Rajiv Dhavan contributed 1 Re immediately after the contempt judgement today which I gratefully accepted,”.
My lawyer & senior colleague Rajiv Dhavan contributed 1 Re immediately after the contempt judgement today which I gratefully accepted pic.twitter.com/vVXmzPe4ss— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 31, 2020
The Supreme Court of India, which had asked for an unconditional apology from the lawyer, noted, “We gave several opportunities and encouragement to (Prashant Bhushan) to express regret. He not only gave wide publicity to the second statement but also gave various interviews to press.”
The court, apparently, was referring to the statement from the 63 year old lawyer-activist in which he refused to retract his statement or even apologise, saying he considered it the discharge of his “highest duty” and apologising would be contempt of his conscience and the court.
Bhushan had also said that open criticism was necessary to “safeguard the democracy and its values.”
The top court said that the statement “was to influence independent Judicial function,” and added that while freedom of expression holds importance, rights of others should also be respected.
The court also referred to the unprecedented press conference by four Supreme Court judges on January 12, 2018, which Mr Bhushan had cited to argue that even judges had gone public with their criticism of the court.
The Supreme Court said, “We hope it was the first and the last occasion that judges have gone to the press, and God gives wisdom to protect its dignity by an internal mechanism,” and added, “Particularly when allegations made, if any, publicly cannot be met by sufferer judges,”.
In the last hearing, the Attorney General K K Venugopal suggested that Prashant Bhushan should be pardoned with just a warning. He had said, “Bhushan’s tweets seek the improvement of the administration of justice… 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,”.
The counsel of Prashant Bhushan, Rajeev Dhavan argued that the Supreme Court’s order of giving him time for an unconditional apology was “an exercise in coercion”. Prashant Bhushan should be forgiven with a message he said, arguing: “One cannot be silenced forever… A message that he (Prashan Bhushan) should be little restrained in future should be enough.”
In one of the tweets, Prashant Bhushan has said that four previous Chief Justices of India (CJIs) played a role in destroying the democracy in India in the past six years.
Another tweet reacting to a photo of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde on a Harley Davidson superbike parked on its side stand last month had flagged that he was without a helmet and a face mask while keeping the court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to justice.
The top court said, during the argument, the freedom of speech is not absolute, and added, “You may do hundreds of good things, but that doesn’t give you a license to do ten crimes,”.
The lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan has already expressed regret in another contempt case involving his comment that half the 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt, in an interview to Tehelka magazine which he gave back in 2009.
The word corruption, he told the court, was used in “wide sense meaning lack of propriety” and not financial corruption. However, the Supreme Court said it wants to explore whether corruption charges can be made against sitting and retired judges and the procedure to deal with it.