Supreme Court slaps fine of Re 1 on Prashant Bhushan for contempt of court

Prashant Bhushan
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Failure to deposit amount by September 15 will incur jail term of 3 months

The Supreme Court imposed a token fine of Re 1 on advocate Prashant Bhushan whom it found guilty of contempt for two of his tweets on Monday, adding that in case he failed to pay by September 15 he would have to undergo a three-month jail sentence and be barred from practising for three years.

A Supreme Court bench Justice Arun Mishra, B R Gavai, and Krishna Murari observed, “ Freedom of speech cannot be curtailed," while handing down the sentence, reported PTI and NDTV. The apex court also referred to the "sane advice" of Attorney General K.K. Venugopal offered to it and Bhushan.

The court also noted that the statements given by judges in the press are not relevant for consideration of Bhushan’s sentence, reported.  It also deprecated his act of publicising his statements to bring further disrepute to the court.

On August 14, the bench had held Bhushan guilty over the tweets made on June 29. It heard arguments for sentencing on August 20 and reserved its judgement on August 25.

Bhushan (63) argued his tweets were "discharge of highest duty". Open criticism is necessary to "safeguard the democracy and its values," he had said, adding that he would cheerfully accept punishment.

The Supreme Court had sought an unconditional apology, maintaining that freedom of speech was not absolute. "You may do hundreds of good things, but that doesn't give you a license to do ten crimes," the court had said, giving him a three-day time window to consider the matter.

Bhushan said he did not see any ‘substantial change” in his stand. "If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true and offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution I hold in highest esteem," he told the judges.

At the last hearing, Bhushan's counsel Rajiv Dhavan argued that the top court's order giving him time for an unconditional apology, was "an exercise in coercion".

 "It looks like as if a contemnor is coerced to give an apology so that it gets over. No court can pass an order like this," he had argued.

"This institution must take criticism, and not just criticism but extreme criticism. Your shoulders are broad enough," Dhavan had argued. He said Bhushan should be forgiven with a message, not a reprimand or warning. "One cannot be silenced forever... A message that he (Prashan Bhushan) should be little restrained in future should be enough," he had added.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal had also suggested that Bhushan be let off with a warning. "Bhushan's tweets seek the improvement of the administration of justice... Let democracy follow in this case when he has exercised his free speech... It will be tremendously appreciated if the court leaves it at that," he had said.

In one of the tweets, for which he was held guilty of contempt, Bhushan had said four previous Chief Justices of India played a role in destroying democracy in India in the last six years.

The other tweet accused Chief Justice S.A. Bobde of riding a motorcycle - he was photographed on a Harley Davidson in Nagpur last month - without a helmet and face mask, while keeping the court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to justice.

On August 14, in its 108-page verdict, the top court had said: The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing criminal contempt.

In the result, we hold alleged contemnor No.1 - Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of having committed criminal contempt of this Court.

The top court had, however, discharged the notice issued to Twitter Inc, California, USA in the contempt case after accepting its explanation that it is only an intermediary and does not have any control on what the users post on the platform.

It had said the company has also shown its bona fides immediately after the cognizance was taken by this Court as it has suspended both the tweets.

The top court had analysed the two tweets of Bhushan posted on the micro-blogging site on June 27 on the functioning of judiciary in past six years, and on July 22 with regard to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde.

"In our considered view, it cannot be said that the tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest," it had said.

Mr Bhushan has already expressed regret in another contempt case where he said half of the 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt during an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009. The word corruption, he told the court this month, was used in "wide sense meaning lack of propriety" and not financial corruption. The case will now be heard by another bench looking into whether corruption charges can be made against sitting and retired judges and the procedure to deal with it.


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