by Rohan Johnson
1st September 2020
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan was let off with a token fine of Re 1 by the Supreme Court on Monday, after being found guilty of criminal contempt for two of his tweets regarding the Supreme Court’s functioning and the Chief Justice of India. The bench comprised of Justices B R Gavai, Arun Mishra and Krishna Murari has directed the lawyer to deposit the amount by September 15. Failure to do so would result in him serving a jail term of 3 months and face debarment from law practice for 3 years.
Prashant Bhushan showing the Re 1 coin used to pay the fine
(Source: The Indian Express - theindianexpress.com)
Though the Supreme Court gave Bhushan time to reconsider his stance and put forward an unconditional apology or withdraw his statement, he refused to do so and stood his ground, stating that his “bonafide beliefs” were reflected in the tweets.
During the sentencing hearing on August 20, the Supreme Court gave Bhushan an extension to provide an apology to the court, despite Bhushan’s stand that the tweets were not made in a “fit of absent-mindedness” and that he was expressing his beliefs on the state of the judiciary. Bhushan still remained firm in his convictions and on August 24, said that apologizing for the tweets “would be insincere”. Reiterating his stand, he informed the court that tendering an insincere apology would in fact constitute contempt of court. The hearing was concluded after the court heard arguments by Bhushan’s lawyer and Attorney General for India K K Venugopal on why the court must not award any punishment to Bhushan, saying his work made significant contributions in the area of public interest litigation.
On August 25, the bench met again to consider the “effect of the supplementary statement”. The court stated that while criticism is welcome, one should not “attribute motives to judges” since they “can only speak through judgments” and cannot go to the press to defend themselves.
In 2009, a case against Bhushan was filed by senior advocate Harish Salve in which he made allegations of corruption in the judiciary in an interview published in Tehelka magazine. Tarun Tejpal, the Tehelka editor at the time, was also charged with contempt of court. The Supreme Court is now likely to take up the 2009 case initiated against Bhushan, for hearing on Sept. 10.
Sources: The Indian Express, Bloomberg, Quint
Edited by Hrishit Roy