Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan should be pardoned with warning for his tweets against judiciary and Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde, the government's lawyer KS Venugopal argued before top court judges today.
Venugopal urged the SC to "show statesmanship" by avoiding the use of the power of contempt . He told the judges that Bhushan should be given a warning to not repeat this in future. "Let him go with a warning to tell him 'please don't repeat this in future'," the Attorney General told the Supreme Court, reported NDTV.
During the hearing, the SC took a 30-minute break and permitted Bhushan more time to withdraw his recent statement submitted to the Supreme Court. The senior lawyer, in his 100-page supplementary statement in response to the SC bench asking him to apologise for the comments made against judiciary, refused to offer an apology. He said what he expressed represented his bona fide belief which he continues to hold.
He even said "insincere apology" would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution, the statement said. "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, the channel reported.
He said his tweets represented this bonafide belief that he continued 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."
Meanwhile, the top court today asked the government's lawyer to suggest what should be done as they "expected a different statement" from Bhushan. Venugopal reasoned that many sitting and retired judges had also commented on corruption in judiciary in the past and that such statements only meant to tell the court that it should reform itself.
On this, Justice Arun Mishra said "he doesn't think whatever he did was wrong. He did not submit an apology... people make mistakes, sometimes even in bona fide mistakes are made. But he does not think he did anything wrong. What to do when someone does not think they did something wrong?" Urging the top court to take compassionate view, Venugopal said the court should let the "democracy follow in this case when he has exercised his free speech".
Justice Mishra said Bhushan's response to the court was even "more derogatory". Venugopal asked the judges not to consider his response. "How can we not? Everyone is criticising us that we haven't considered his response which according to us is even more derogatory. Now if we remove it, we will be blamed we deleted this on our own," Justice Mishra said.
Justice Mishra said his remarks like "Supreme Court has collapsed" and "Supreme Court has become executive-minded" were highly objectionable. The SC also observed that it was not a matter of punishment but faith in the institution, and that the matter required appropriate hearing and should be referred to an appropriate bench. Prashant Bhushan, who's also a well-known public interest litigation activist, in his August 2 affidavit said he only regretted a part of his tweets. Defending his two tweets, Bhushan said his tweets were against the judges regarding their conduct in their "personal capacity" and they did not obstruct the administration of justice.
He had tweeted a photo of CJI Bobde sitting on a bike. However, his August 2 affidavit statement said he regretted asking why justice Bobde was not wearing a helmet since it was on a stand. He said nonetheless, he was exercising his freedom of speech and that it did not amount to "obstruction of justice". "At the outset, I admit that I did not notice that the bike was on a stand and therefore wearing a helmet was not required. I, therefore, regret that part of my tweet. However, I stand by the remaining part of what I have stated in my tweet..." the affidavit added.
His lawyer, Dushyant Dave also said Bhushan's tweets were not against the institution.