September 12, 2020 11:13:08 pm
Activist-advocate Prashant Bhushan, held guilty of contempt of court for two of his tweets, moved the Supreme Court Saturday seeking the right of appeal against convictions in original criminal contempt cases to be heard by a larger and a different bench, news agency PTI reported.
In a fresh plea filed through lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, Bhushan has sought a declaration that a “person convicted for criminal contempt by this court, including the petitioner herein, would have a right to an intra-court appeal to be heard by a larger and different bench”.
As per the present statutory scheme, a person convicted for the criminal contempt has the right to file a review petition against the judgment and that plea is decided in chambers by the bench usually without hearing the contemnor.
Bhushan has argued that contempt proceedings are one in which the aggrieved party is the Supreme Court itself which acts as the “prosecutor, the witness and the judge” and, therefore, legal remedies in the way of procedural changes are required to avoid the fear of inherent bias.
“As a judge the power of the Supreme Court to convict and sentence the accused is unlimited and arbitrary… No one can be at once a suitor and a judge. Thus, there is a need for an intra-court appeal,” the plea said.
His petition said the right of appeal is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution and is also guaranteed under international law and this would act as a “vital safeguard against wrongful conviction and would truly enable the provision of truth as a defence”.
Bhushan said his petition has been filed for the enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (Freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (right to life) of the Constitution.
The plea said it has been filed in order to bring important procedural safeguards when the top court considers cases of criminal contempt in original proceedings that is those proceedings where it does not act as an appellate court.
“In such cases, considering the fact that there is inherent unavoidable conflict of interest involved, and the fact that liberty of the alleged contemnor is at stake, it is of utmost importance that certain basic safeguards are designed which would reduce (though not obviate) chances of arbitrary, vengeful and high handed decisions.
“It is extremely important to minimise such decisions since they not only cause great injustice to the alleged contemnor, but also bring disrepute to the court itself and are likely to be harshly judged by legal historians,” he said in the plea.
On August 14, the SC bench led by (Retd) Justice Arun Mishra, and comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari held Bhushan guilty for two tweets which it said were based on “distorted facts”, constituted a “scurrilous/malicious… attack” on the “entire Supreme Court”, and had the effect of “destabilising the very foundation” of the judiciary.
Bhushan was let off on August 31 with a token fine of Re 1 by the Supreme Court. Hours after he was sentenced, Bhushan said that he would pay the fine, but he reserved his right to seek a review of the judgment holding him guilty of contempt.
Bhushan faces another contempt case from 2009. The apex court had in November 2009 issued contempt notices to Bhushan and journalist Tarun Tejpal. The case relates to comments made by Bhushan allegedly against the judiciary in an interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009. Tejpal was then the editor of the magazine.
(Inputs from PTI)
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