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Contempt case: SC rejects Prashant Bhushan’s plea to defer hearing on sentence, gives 2-3 days to ‘reconsider’ tweets

During the hearing, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan quoted Mahatma Gandhi and contended that he will not apologise for the two tweets and cheerfully accept the punishment that will be given to him.

SNS | New Delhi |

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the request of senior advocate Prashant Bhushan to defer hearing on sentencing in a contempt case in which he was held guilty last week.

The apex court is yet to decide on the quantum of punishment and the hearing on the sentence is scheduled for August 20.

Arguing on the point of sentencing against Prashant Bhushan, the top court said it is not keen on entertaining a plea by Bhushan to defer hearing on sentence till his review petition against conviction for criminal contempt is decided. The bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said the judgement is complete only after the sentencing.

The bench told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing Prashant Bhushan that if it were to impose a sentence on Bhushan, held guilty of contempt, the sentence will not be carried out till he files a review plea against the August 14 verdict, and it is decided by the top court.

“Even if we punish you, it won’t be activated till the decision on review. We will be fair to you. We feel you are trying to avoid this bench,” the bench said.

Justice Mishra further told Dave, “We are always fair to you. We do not know whether you are fair to us.”

Also, rejecting his request that another bench should hear arguments on the quantum of sentence, the court said, “You are asking us to commit an act of impropriety that arguments on sentencing should be heard by other bench.”

During the hearing, senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan quoted Mahatma Gandhi and contended that he will not apologise for the two tweets and cheerfully accept the punishment that will be given to him.

Bhushan said “inflict any penalty on me for that which the court considers an offence, and I consider to be my bonafide duty”.

A week after Prashant Bhushan was guilty of contempt of court for his alleged tweets on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and his four predecessors, the advocate told the court today that he is “pained” that he has been “grossly misunderstood”.

“I am pained to hear that I am held guilty of contempt of court. I am pained not because of the would-be sentencing, but because I am being grossly misunderstood. I believe that an open criticism is necessary to safeguard the democracy and its values,” Bhushan was quoted as saying by NDTV.

“My tweets need to be seen as an attempt for working for the betterment of the institution. The tweets, I consider, were discharge of my highest duty. Apologising would also be dereliction of my duty. I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal for magnanimity. I cheerfully submit to any punishment that court may impose,” he further said.

In response, Justice Mishra said, “There is a Lakshman Rekha (boundary) for everything. Why cross it? We welcome pursuing good cases in public interest but remember, this is now after conviction. And it is a serious thing. I haven’t convicted anyone of contempt in 24 years as a judge. This is my first such order.”

After almost two-hour long arguments, the Supreme Court gave the 63-year-old lawyer two-three days “to reconsider” his statement.

“There is no person on Earth who cannot commit a mistake. You may do hundreds good things but that doesn’t give you a license to do 10 crimes. Whatever has been done is done. But we want the person concerned to have a sense of remorse,” said Justice Arun Mishra.

Earlier in the day, seeking the court to defer hearing on his sentencing in contempt proceedings against him, Prashant Bhushan’s lawyer Dushyant Dave had said, “The appeal is correct under judicial review and the sentence can be deferred. Heaven is not going to fall if the sentence will be deferred”.

The apex court had initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against Bhushan for publishing two tweets, the first tweet, which was posted on June 27 alleged that the last four Chief Justices had played a role in the “destruction of democracy” during undeclared “emergency” for last six years.

And the second tweet on June 29 allegedly said the present Chief Justice rode a stationary bike at Nagpur while keeping the apex court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to access to justice.

Advocate Bhushan has maintained that he was “exercising his freedom of speech” and giving his opinion about the functioning of the court, and it does not amount to “obstruction of justice”, necessitating the contempt proceedings.