August 25, 2020 4:32:55 am
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who has been convicted by the Supreme Court in a criminal contempt of court case over two tweets posted in June, and told to tender an unconditional apology by Monday, has declined to do so.
He said the tweets “represented” a “bonafide belief that I continue to hold” and “an apology for expression of these beliefs, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere” and “contempt of my conscience”.
In a supplementary statement Monday before the Supreme Court, filed on his behalf by advocate Kamini Jaiswal, Bhushan said “in these troubling times, the hopes of the people of India vest in this Court to ensure the rule of law and the Constitution” and “not an untrammeled rule of the executive”.
The matter has been listed Tuesday “for effect of supplementary statement”.
Bhushan was held guilty on August 14 by a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari over his tweets made on June 27 and 29. On August 20, the court heard arguments on the quantum of punishment to be awarded and said he had time until August 24 to submit an “unconditional apology, if he so desires”.
But Bhushan, in his supplementary statement, has refused to reconsider his statement: “It is with deep regret that I read the order of this Hon’ble Court dated 20th of August. At the hearing, the court asked me to take 2-3 days to reconsider the statement I made in the court. However, the order subsequently states: “We have given time to the contemnor to submit unconditional apology, if he so desires.”
“I have never stood on ceremony when it comes to offering an apology for any mistake or wrongdoing on my part. It has been a privilege for me to have served this institution and bring several important public interest causes before it. I live with the realization that I have received from this institution much more than I have had the opportunity to give it. I cannot but have the highest regard for the institution of the Supreme Court. I believe that the Supreme Court is the last bastion of hope for the protection of fundamental rights, the watchdog institutions and indeed for constitutional democracy itself. It has rightly been called the most powerful court in the democratic world, and often an exemplar for courts across the globe,” he said.
“Today in these troubling times, the hopes of the people of India vest in this Court to ensure the rule of law and the Constitution and not an untrammeled rule of the executive. This casts a duty, especially for an officer of this court like myself, to speak up, when I believe there is a deviation from its sterling record. Therefore I expressed myself in good faith, not to malign the Supreme Court or any particular Chief Justice, but to offer constructive criticism so that the court can arrest any drift away from its long-standing role as a guardian of the Constitution and custodian of peoples’ rights,” he said.
“My tweets represented this bonafide 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. Therefore, an apology for expression of these beliefs, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere,” Bhushan said.
“An apology cannot be a mere incantation and any apology has to, as the court has itself put it, be sincerely made. This is especially so when I have made the statements bonafide and pleaded truths with full details, which have not been dealt with by the Court. If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem,” he said.
Meanwhile, in written submissions to the court in the case, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, said his client’s “comments were opinion made in good faith founded on true facts” and that similar opinion was also expressed by some others in the past.
A summary of Dhavan’s contentions, filed in court by Jaiswal, said “there should not be any attempt to coerce the contemnor into making an apology on the basis that nothing else would be acceptable”.
It questioned bonafides of the original complainant, advocate Mehek Maheshwari, and said the copy of the complaint was not given to Bhushan despite requests.
“The implications of this are far reaching because Bhushan and the public are entitled to know whether the complaint was malafide or even personally or politically motivated,” the submission stated.
Bhushan has submitted a separate application in another criminal contempt case over remarks in a 2009 interview to Tehelka magazine.
He raised ten questions and said it needs to be referred to a Constitution Bench.
This includes “whether the expression of a bona fide opinion about the extent of corruption in any section of the judiciary would amount to contempt of Court?” and “if the answer… is in the affirmative, whether the person who expresses such an opinion about the extent of corruption in a section of judiciary is obliged to prove that his opinion is correct or whether it is enough to show that he bona fide held that opinion”.
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