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SC fines Prashant Bhushan Re 1 for contempt

The Supreme Court on Monday ordered activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan to pay a fine of Re 1 by September 15 for contempt of court, failing which he will be sent to jail for three months and debarred from practicing before it for three years.

A three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra—which had held Bhushan guilty of contempt of court on August 14 for scandalizing the Judiciary by his tweets against CJI SA Bobde and four former CJIs—took strong exception to the contemnor talking to the press and releasing his statement to journalists in advance.

“We are of the view that, in the circumstances, the defense taken cannot be said to be either in the public interest or bona fide one. On the contrary, it is more derogatory to the reputation of this court and would amount to further scandalizing and bringing the administration of justice in disrepute, in which the common citizen of this country has faith and approaches this court as a last resort for getting justice,” the Bench said, adding the contemnor has indulged in making reckless allegations against the institution of justice.

Hours later, Bhushan told reporters that he will “respectfully” pay the fine as he has “the greatest respect for judiciary”.

Insisting that his tweets were not intended to disrespect the Supreme Court or the judiciary, he said he reserved his right to file a review petition.

“An advocate cannot forget his ethical duty and responsibility and cannot denigrate the very system of which he/she is an integral part,” said the Bench which also included Justice BR Gavai and Justice Krishna Murari.

It said Bhushan brought further disrepute to the court by giving wide publicity to his statements before they were considered by the top court. His act of releasing his statement to the press before it was considered by the court amounted to interference in the administration of justice, it added.

“Fair criticism is not to be silenced, but an advocate has to remind himself/herself, where he/she crosses the zone of propriety, and the court cannot continuously ignore it, and the system cannot be made to suffer. When the criticism turns into malicious and scandalous allegations thereby tending to undermine the confidence of the public and the institution as a whole, such criticism cannot be ignored,” the top court said.

The top court had on August 25 reserved its order on sentence after hearing detailed arguments from senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan and Attorney General KK Venugopal.

A defiant Bhushan had refused to apologize, saying an insincere apology would amount to “contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in the highest esteem”.

Dhavan had urged it not to make him a martyr and that if it wanted to debar him from practicing law, it should hear him first.

Venugopal had said a warning would suffice but Bhushan must express regret and withdraw his affidavit justifying his controversial tweets against CJI Bobde and four former CJIs.

Justice Mishra – who is due to retire on September 2 – had noted during the hearing that it was quite painful to decide a contempt case just before demitting his office.

Another contempt case initiated against Bhushan in 2009 for his statement that half of the 16 former CJIs were “corrupt”, had already been referred to an appropriate Bench for considering the question of conflict between right to free speech and suo motu contempt powers of court.