New Delhi, August 20: The Supreme Court Thursday gave lawyer Prashant Bhushan time till August 24 to “reconsider his defiant statement” refusing to apologise for his contemptuous tweets, news agency PTI reported. Bhushan has been held guilty of contempt for two of his tweets.
“Court can be very lenient if there is a realisation of mistake,” the bench said. Bhushan, who intends to file a review plea against his contempt, said he would consult his lawyers and think over the apex court’s suggestion.
Earlier in the day, the apex court rejected Bhushan’s submission that another bench should be hearing the arguments on the quantum of punishment in the contempt case. A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai, and Krishna Murari told Bhushan that the punishment will not be enforced till his review plea against the conviction is decided.
On his submission for a different bench, the court said, “You are asking us to commit an act of impropriety that another bench should hear arguments on sentencing.”
Attorney General K K Venugopal urged the bench not to award any punishment to Bhushan as he has already been convicted. The court said it cannot consider his till Prashant Bhushan reconsiders his earlier stand of not apologising for his tweets. The tone, tenor, and content of Bhushan’s statement make it worse; is it defence or aggravation, the court told Venugopal.
Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Bhushan said, “When your Lordships’ Aug 14 judgment reaches various academies, it will be severely criticised.” Responding to him Justice Arun Mishra said the bench doesn’t mind “fair criticism.” On Dhawan’s submission that the court must consider the work done by Bhushan, the court said, “Sometimes in zeal, you cross the Lakshman Rekha…We appreciate the cases and the work for good causes.”
In his application, Bhushan said he “intends” to file a review petition “after studying the order, in detail, and seeking appropriate legal counsel as the ramification of the said order is of grave constitutional significance, in particular on the right to free speech”. He said he “would file the same within the limitation period of 30 days from date of the judgment, as he is entitled to under…the Supreme Court Rules, 2013”.
As many as 1,500 lawyers from across the country, including senior members of the Bar have expressed “dismay” over the conviction and urged the apex court to “take corrective steps to prevent a miscarriage of justice”. In a statement, the lawyers said a Bar “silenced under the threat of contempt” will “undermine the independence and ultimately the strength” of the Supreme Court. Former SC judge Justice Kurian Joseph also said the matter should be heard by a Constitution Bench and called for an “intra-court” appeal in the case.
Bhushan also tweeted a statement by Opposition leaders including Digvijaya Singh, Shashi Tharoor and Farooq Abdullah, in which they said that the court’s decision had caused “a chilling effect on free speech and expression of dissent.” “It is sad that the honourable court has not found it necessary to distinguish between constructive criticism and malicious statement,” the statement said.