Monday, August 31, 2020

Contempt case: Bhushan fined Re 1, agrees to pay; may challenge order


The Supreme Court on Monday imposed a token fine of Re 1 against activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan in the contempt case for his tweets against the judiciary.

Bhushan said he will submit the token fine of Re 1 imposed by the SC, but also indicated he would file a review plea against the order.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra asked Bhushan to deposit the fine by September 15, failing which he will attract a jail term of three months and debarment from law practice for three years.

Freedom of speech cannot be curtailed but rights of others need to be respected, said the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari.

Hours after the judgment, Bhushan tweeted, 'My lawyer & senior colleague Rajiv Dhavan contributed 1 Re immediately after the contempt judgement today which I gratefully accepted.'

Bhushan also tweeted his photograph holding up a Re 1 coin.

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 verdict said not only the bench had persuaded Bhushan to express regret but Attorney General K K Venugopal had also opined that it was in the fitness of thing that the contemnor should express regret.

The bench also noted that the statements of Bhushan submitted in the court were released to the media before they were taken on record.

During an earlier hearing, the bench had orally observed that the sentence, if any, will not be enforced against Bhushan till the decision is taken on his plea seeking review of the judgment convicting him in the contempt case.

On August 14, the apex court had held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary and maintained they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in public interest.

Bhushan in his statement had refused to offer an apology to the Supreme Court for the tweets, saying what he had expressed represented his bona fide belief which he continued to hold.

On August 25, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan had urged the top court to show 'judicial statesmanship' and not make Bhushan a 'martyr' by punishing him for contempt over the tweets, after the activist-lawyer rejected fresh suggestions from the court for an apology.

Dhavan, representing Bhushan, had suggested that the top court recall the August 14 verdict convicting the activist lawyer and not to impose any sentence.

He urged it to not only close the case but also to bring an end to the controversy.

Justice Mishra is demitting office on September 2.

Venugopal had requested the court to forgive Bhushan with a message that he should not repeat this act.

He also said Bhushan, who has been refusing to tender an unconditional apology for the tweets, should withdraw all statements and express regret.

The bench had then given 30 minutes to Bhushan to 'think over' withdrawing his statements made in the court and said he made 'disparaging remarks against the institution and the judges'.

The bench had earlier, on August 20, granted time till August 24 to Bhushan to reconsider his 'defiant statement' and tender "unconditional apology" for the contemptuous tweets.

Referring to Bhushan's statements and his refusal to apologise, the bench had told Venugopal that mistakes were committed by all but they needed to be accepted, but Bhushan was not willing to accept that.

Dhavan had argued that reprimanding Bhushan like 'don't do it again' as suggested by the Attorney General will not be correct and instead a statesman-like message should be there like 'Mr Bhushan though we disagree with many things, but from next time you should be more responsible'.

Prashant Bhushan contempt case chronology

Jun 27: Bhushan tweets about undeclared emergency in the country and the role of the Supreme Court and last four chief justices of India.

Jun 29: Bhushan tweets about Chief Justice S A Bobde trying a Harley Davidson super-bike in his hometown Nagpur during the coronavirus outbreak.

Jul 22: SC initiates contempt proceedings against Bhushan after taking note of a complaint filed by a lawyer in this regard; issues notice to him.

Aug 14: SC holds Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his both tweets 'against the judiciary'.

Aug 24: Bhushan files a response refusing to apologise to the SC while hearing argument of point of quantum of sentence.

Aug 25: Attorney General K K Venugopal urges SC to let Bhushan off the hook.

SC once again asks Bhushan to apologies. He refuses.

SC reserves judgment on Bhushan's sentencing. 

Aug 31: SC imposes fine of Re 1 on Bhushan, to be paid by September 15; default to lead to 3-month-jail term, debarment from practice in the apex court for 3 years.

Photographs: @pbhushan1/Twitter


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