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SC fines Prashant Bhushan Re 1 for contempt

NEW DELHI, AUG 31 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 8/31/2020 1:03:54 PM IST

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan to pay a Re 1 fine by September 15 for contempt of court, failing which he will be sent to jail for three months and debarred from practising law for three years.

A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra -- which had held Bhushan guilty of contempt of court on August 14 for scandalising the Judiciary by his tweets against CJI SA Bobde and four former CJIs -- took strong exception to the contemnor talking to the press and releasing his statement to journalists in advance. 

Bhushuan brought further disrepute to the court by giving wide publicity to his statements before they were considered by the top court, said the Bench which also included Justice BR Gavai and Justice Krishna Murari. Bhushan’s act of releasing his statement to the press before it was considered by the court amounted to interference in the administration of justice, said the Bench.

Addressing a press conference later, activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan said he will submit the token fine of Re 1 imposed by the Supreme Court in the contempt case for his tweets against the judiciary, but also indicated he would file a review plea against the order. Bhushan said he has the greatest respect for judiciary and the tweets were not intended to disrespect the apex court or the judiciary.

“I reserve my right to file review, I propose to submit and pay fine as directed by the court,” Bhushan said in a press conference.

The top court had on August 25 reserved its order on sentence after hearing detailed arguments from senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan and Attorney General KK Venugopal.

A defiant Bhushan had refused to apologise, saying an insincere apology would amount to “contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem”. Dhavan had urged it not to make him a martyr. “My humble and most respectful submission is don’t make Prashant Bhushan a martyr,” Dhavan had said. If the court wanted to debar Bhushan from practising law, it will have to hear him first, he had submitted.

Venugopal had said, “My suggestion would be to give a quietus to this matter without getting into that exercise.” 

Maintaining that a warning would suffice, the Attorney General had said Bhushan must express regret and withdraw his affidavit justifying his controversial tweets against CJI SA Bobde and four former CJIs.

Justice Mishra – who is due to retire on September 2 – had noted during the hearing that it was quite painful to decide a contempt case just before demitting his office.

Maintaining that criticism of judiciary was welcome, Justice Mishra had said judges can’t be attributed motives. “Which judge is left out -- sitting or retired?...Judges are condemned, their families humiliated…and they can’t even speak…Who will protect them, if not the Bar?” he wondered.

“It’s about the system. If we (Bar & Bench) 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,” Justice Mishra said.

In another contempt case initiated against Bhushan in 2009 for his statement that half of the 16 former CJIs were “corrupt”, the Bench agreed to refer to an appropriate Bench the question of conflict between right to free speech and suo motu contempt powers of court. It had directed that the matter be placed before the CJI for sending it to an appropriate Bench for further hearing on September 10 after Dhawan said these issues needed to be decided by a larger Bench.

 

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