The Supreme Court on Monday imposed a token penalty of one rupee on activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan as his punishment in the criminal contempt case.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said, “Bhushan must deposit Rupee One by September 15, failing which he shall undergo a simple imprisonment for a period of three months and further be debarred from practising in this Court for a period of three years.”
The top court had previously said, “The act committed by the contemnor (Bhushan) is a very serious one. He has attempted to denigrate the reputation of the institution of administration of justice of which he himself is a part. At the cost of repetition, we have to state that the faith of the citizens of the country in the institution of justice is the foundation for rule of law which is an essential factor in the democratic set up.”
The SC also said, “From the very beginning, was desirous of giving quietus to this matter. Directly or indirectly, the contemnor (Bhushan) was persuaded to end this matter by tendering an apology and save the grace of the institution as well as the individual, who is an officer of the Court. However, for the reasons best known to him he has neither shown regret in spite of our persuasion or the advice of the learned Attorney General.”
“The contemnor (Bhushan) not only gave wide publicity to the second statement submitted before this Court on 24 Aug prior to the same being tendered to the Court, but also gave various interviews with regard to sub judice matter, thereby further attempting to bring down the reputation of this Court. If we do not take cognizance of such conduct it will give a wrong message to the lawyers and litigants throughout the country. However, by showing magnanimity, instead of imposing any severe punishment, we are sentencing the contemnor with a nominal fine of Re.1/ (Rupee one),” the SC stated in its judgement.
The nation’s apex court also made an observation regarding the press conference held by four Supreme Court judges in January 2018. The SC said, “We hope it was the first and the last occasion that the Judges have gone to press, and God gives wisdom to protect its dignity by internal mechanism, particularly, when allegations made, if any, publicly cannot be met by sufferer Judges. It would cause suffering to them till eternity. Truth can be the defence to the Judges also, but they are bound by their judicial norms, ethics, and code of conduct.” These observations were made while addressing the defence raised by Bhushan relying on the statements made by four SC judges at the press conference.
After the Supreme Court judgement, Prashant Bhushan spoke to The Daily Guardian, saying, “My lawyer and senior colleague, Rajiv Dhavan, contributed Re 1 immediately after the contempt judgement today, which I gratefully accepted.” Bhushan also held a press conference where he said, “I am here 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. Therefore, while I reserve the right to seek a review of the conviction and sentencing, by way of an appropriate legal remedy, I propose to submit myself to this order and will respectfully pay the fine, just as I would have submitted to any other lawful punishment.”
“I have had the greatest respect for the institution of the Supreme Court. I have always believed it to be the last bastion of hope, particularly for the weak and the oppressed who knock at its door for the protection of their rights, often against a powerful executive. My tweets were not intended in any way to disrespect the Supreme Court or the judiciary as a whole, but were merely meant to express my anguish, at what I felt, was a deviation from its sterling past record. This issue was never about me versus the Hon’ble Judges, much less about me vs the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court of India wins, every Indian wins. Every Indian wants a strong and independent judiciary. Obviously, if the courts get weakened, it weakens the republic and harms every citizen,” Bhushan added.
On 25 August, the SC had reserved its judgement on the sentence against advocate Prashant Bhushan for contempt of court regarding his derogatory tweets about the CJI and his four predecessors. “If you are hurting someone, then what is wrong in apologizing?” Justice Arun Mishra had asked.
On 24 August, Bhushan had filed a statement before the top court and refused to submit an unconditional apology to the SC. “My tweets represented this bona fide belief that I continue to hold. Public expression of these beliefs was, I believe, in line with my higher obligations as a citizen and a loyal officer of this court,” Bhushan had said. On 14 August, the SC had held lawyer Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt of court for his tweets derogatory to the CJI and his four predecessors.
On July 22, the SC had issued notice to him, asking Bhushan to explain his tweets “undermining the dignity and authority of the Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular”.