THE PRASHANT BHUSHAN CASE
The Supreme Court of India, earlier in the week reserved its verdict on the quantum of the sentence of activist-lawyer Prashanth Bhushan who had been convicted over two of his tweets criticising the judiciary and the CJI S.A.Bobde. A three-bench jury, headed by Arun Mishra, stated that – “While the court is receptive to criticism, its critics must be weary ascribing motives to its judges.”
Bhushan in his many years of experience as a lawyer has ruffled many feathers – from the administration to the judiciary; and this is not the first time that he has had a run-in with the higher judiciary.
The SC on Thursday warned Advocate Prashanth Bhushan to not cross the “Lakshman Rekha in the zeal of over-doing” while hearing a case against him regarding contempt of court and insult of the judiciary.
The apex court said that it will give him 2-3 days to reconsider his ‘defiant statement’ and refusing to apologize for those contemptuous tweets, to which the lawyer said he will consult his team of lawyers and think about the SC’s suggestion.
THE HIGH DRAMA DURING THE HEARING – WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED IN THE SC?
The SC had asked for the opinion of Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan and Attorney General K.K.Venugopal on the punishment to be awarded to Prashanth Bhushan who was found guilty of contempt “to scandalize the entire institution of Judiciary.” Following is what happened in detail:
Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan’s argument –
1. The Court should not try to ask an apology from the Contemnor by imposing force on the assumption and foundation that nothing except an apology would be acceptable.
2. The SC can survive only if its shoulders are strong and it should take criticism on that basis – essentially the tweet on Harley Davidson was nothing more than criticism.
3. To bring to the Court’s observation similar comments were made by Justice Lokur, Kurian Joseph, A.P.Shah, Arun Shourie, and hence the same process of legal actions should be applicable for them as well.
4. The Apex Court must recall and reconsider its judgement convicting Bhushan for contempt of the court. Suppose it does not reconsider it should not impose any sentence on him as the criticism by him was strong but not scurrilous.
5. The SC cannot silence Prashanth by ordering him not to repeat his criticism on it as he has always been critical of SC. Instead, the Court can ask him to restrain himself in his criticism against Judiciary in the future.
6. This case and controversy can be closed by a mild reprimand of Bhushan. If the Supreme Court punishes him, the controversy will pave way into a much bigger scale of controversy and discussion in public, one group projecting Bhushan as a person rightfully criticising the SC and another group stating that he has been rightfully punished.
Attorney General – K.K.Venugopal’s argument -
1. The AG advised the Supreme Court to be like a statesman and not use the powers on the contempt. The bench asked AG in reaction- “What is the use of warning Bhushan who thinks he has not done anything wrong?”
2. The AG said Bhushan should not be considered, while the bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said- “Everyone is criticizing us that we have not considered his response.” The bench added that his response to the court was even more derogatory than the tweets.
3. However, During the hearing Mr. Venugopal stressed that Mr. Prashanth Bhushan has done a tremendous amount of public good, and if Bhushan’s statement is read as a whole it says he has the highest respect for the Judiciary but has a very critical opinion about the CJI.
4. The AG essentially urged the Court not to punish him.
Prashanth Bhushan’s response to the Supreme Court -
When the SC asked Mr. Bhushan for his apology and his views on the tweets he made against the Institution, Mr. Bhushan said – “I stand by my tweets. I do not ask for mercy. I ask for magnanimity. I shall submit cheerfully to whatever punishment the court imposes on me lawfully. What I said in the tweet is my Bonafide belief.”
WHAT EXACTLY DID PRASHANTH BHUSHAN TWEET AGAINST THE JUDICIARY AND CJI?
1. In the first tweet by Bhushan he posted a viral photo of Chief Justice S.A.Bobde astride a Harley Davidson. He wrote that Bobde was sitting on a 5 million ($67000) bike without a mask or a helmet when citizens were being denied justice as the court was in lockdown.
2. However, The SC ruled the tweet was “patently false” and had the tendency to shake the confidence of public as the court was hearing matters even during the coronavirus shutdown.
3. In his next tweet Bhushan wrote that when the historians look at how democracy has been destroyed in India the past six years, they will mark the role of the court and the top four justices.
4. The Court in reaction said “the tweet has the effect of destabilising the very foundation of this important pillar of the Indian Democracy and directly affronts the honourable majesty of the law.”
5. Surprisingly, Twitter suspended both of Bhushan’s tweets.
The Supreme Court’s observation –
1. The SC, during the hearing, said it was painful to read Bhushan’s “Court has collapsed” reply in justification to his tweets which is more derogatory than the tweets themselves.
2. The public will go with whatever Mr. Bhushan is saying is correct and it will have some effect. There is a difference between statements made by a politician and an officer of the court.
3. For how long would the system suffer this? Judges are condemned and their families are humiliated, they cannot even speak.
On Thursday, Mr. Bhushan sought neither mercy no magnanimity from the court. He, in a short statement, told the court he would cheerfully submit to the punishment whatever it may be.
However, the Court reserved its verdict but gave a chance to Prashanth to tender an “unconditional apology.”
Reporter: Agni Tejas