The Supreme Court today told Attorney-General KK Venugopal, who had submitted that rabble rouser-cum-lawyer Prashant Bhushan need not be punished for contempt of court, that the way the activist responded to his conviction was even more derogatory. The apex court heard out Rajeev Dhavan, Bhushan’s advocate, too. It reserved the verdict on the quantum of sentence to be given to Bhushan.
The court had on 14 August convicted the activist-lawyer for contempt of court for his tweets against the judiciary.
The apex court this afternoon sought views of senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, counsel for Prashant Bhushan, on the punishment to be awarded in the contempt case.
The hearing today saw strong arguments between Prashant Bhushan’s lawyer Rajeev Dhavan, Attorney-General KK Venugopal and the Supreme Court bench.
Rajeev Dhavan argues Prashant Bhushan not guilty of contempt
- There should not be any attempt to coerce the contemnor into making an apology on the basis that nothing else would be acceptable.
- The Harley Davidson remark by Bhushan is hardly a criticism. The Supreme Court can survive only if its shoulders are strong.
- In the present controversy, similar comments were made by Justices MB Lokur, Kurian Joseph, AP Shah, and journalists like Arun Shourie and others in the public domain and were reported by the newspapers and TV. It would follow that they were all in contempt.
- The Supreme Court must recall its judgment convicting Bhushan for contempt of court and if it does not, then it should not impose any sentence on him as the criticism by him was strong but not scurrilous.
- The court cannot silence Bhushan by telling him not to repeat his criticism of the Supreme Court. He has always been critical of the court. Do not pass ‘don’t do it again’ order. At best, the court can ask him to be restrained in his criticism of the apex court in the future.
- This case and controversy can be closed by a mild reprimand of Bhushan. If the Supreme Court punishes him, the controversy will snowball into a bigger one — one group making Bhushan a martyr and the other saying he is rightly punished. Do not make Prashant Bhushan a martyr by punishing him for contempt.
- The SC can say it disagreed with Bhushan and lay down guidelines barring advocates from publicising their cases. It can ask Bhushan to be restrained in future.
Exchange between A-G & SC
Attorney-General Venugopal insisted that the top court should show statesmanship and not use the powers of contempt. The bench asked the AG what is the use of a warning to Bhushan who thinks he has not done anything wrong.
Venugopal said that Bhushan’s response should not be considered. The bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said: “How can we not? Everyone is criticising us that we have not considered his response.” The bench said, according to it, Bhushan’s response was even more derogatory.
Venugopal urged the top court to forgive Bhushan and said it was not necessary to punish him. The court told the attorney-general that he had initiated contempt proceedings against advocate Bhushan too — a year ago — for just one wrong accusation and withdrawn it only after he expressed regret, but this case was not identical.
The attorney-general submitted before the bench that Bhushan has expressed regret in the 2009 matter and he should be allowed to do the same in this case as well. “The SC can warn him but not punish him,” he said.
Supreme Court observes
- It was painful to read Bhushan’s reply in justification of his tweets.
- Bhushan’s “court has collapsed” comment was objectionable, but his response to the court was even more derogatory.
- People will think whatever Bhushan is saying is correct, and if it were somebody else then it was easier to ignore. But when Bhushan says something it has some effect.
- There is a difference between a politician and an officer of the court.
- Citing Bhushan’s 2009 contempt case, the court said there is another case pending since 2009, and asked if he has been punished there? “I have to demit office and it is painful to deal with all this,” said Justice Mishra.
- For how long the system would suffer this? Judges are condemned and their families are humiliated. They cannot even speak.
On 20 August, the apex court had assured Bhushan that no punishment would befall him until his review petition was heard out.