Advocate Prashant Bhushan who was held in criminal contempt for scandalising the court has refused to apologise to the Supreme Court. "My tweets were nothing but a small attempt to discharge what I considered to be my highest duty at this juncture in the history of our republic. I did not tweet in a fit of absence mindedness. It would be insincere and contemptuous on my part to offer an apology for the tweets that expressed what was and continues to be my bonafide belief", a statement prepared by Bhushan read before arguments began.
Paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi's submission from his 1922 sedition trial, Bhushan said: "I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal to magnanimity. I am here, therefore, to cheerfully submit to any penalty that can lawfully be inflicted upon me for what the Court has determined to be an offence, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen."
On August 14, the Supreme Court held Bhushan in criminal contempt over two tweets which scandalised the court. The top court had initiated contempt proceedings against Bhushan observing that his tweets brought "the administration of justice in disrepute" and were "capable of undermining the dignity and authority" of the Institution and the office of the Chief Justice of India "in particular…".
Expressing belief must be permissible in a democracy
On August 19, Bhushan had filed a plea in the court seeking to defer the hearing scheduled for today on the grounds that he intended to challenge his conviction. When the hearing began on Thursday morning, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, one of the lawyers representing Bhushan, once again requested for a deferral, which was promptly denied.
"In the event, we decide to impose any kind of punishment, we assure you that it won't be in operation till the review is decided. Don't worry, we will be fair to you... Even if you are not fair to us," Justice Arun Mishra, who was leading the three-judge bench said.
Before the hearing commenced, a statement prepared by Bhushan was read out in court by senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan who also represented the lawyer.
After reading out the statement, Dhavan addressed the court submitting that while deciding on contempt, the intent and nature of not just the contemnor, but that of the offence must also be considered.
"Tweets are transient in nature. They are like fireflies in the night. Can the SC explain how the tweets will substantially interfere with the administration of justice?, Dhavan asked. "In contempt cases, truth is my absolute defence. In sentencing too, it will be my defence...," he added.
"If you do not balance your comments, you will destroy the institution. We do not punish for contempt so easily but there has to be a balance. There has to be some restraint. There is a Lakshman Rekha for everything. Why should you cross the Rekha?" Justice Mishra said.
Also Read: All You Need To Know About Contempt of Court
Midway through the hearing, the court asked Bhushan if he wanted to reconsider the statement he read out in the beginning. To which, Bhushan replied in the negative.
"The statement I made was well-considered and thought out. It is unlikely there shall be a change. Don't want to waste your time," Bhushan responded. The court, however, insisted on giving Bhushan two-three days to think about it.
"It's better if you take the time. Take two-three days. We want to give you time. Then, later on, don't say we didn't give u time to reflect...If you stand by your statement, then alright, we will go by it," Justice Mishra said.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was also present, also sought pardon for Bhushan. "I will request you not to punish Prashant Bhushan," he told the three-judge bench.
Concluding his arguments for the day, Dhavan said there was no justification or reasons given as to how the court concluded that the tweets were "scurrilous". Dhavan added that Bhushan's sentiment found support with more than lawyers and former judges.
"Are they in contempt too?" Dhavan asked.
Buttressing Dhavan's argument, Venugopal said, "I have a list of nine judges who had said that there is corruption in the higher levels of the judiciary. I had myself said it in 1987.."
The hearings then concluded with the bench giving Bhushan time to reflect and reconsider the statements he made.