NEW DELHI: The tempest over whether Prashant Bhushan should be punished for bringing the Supreme Court into contempt with his comments ended unspectacularly on Monday, with the court handing down the activist-advocate the easy option of paying Re 1 as fine to avoid the stringent default punishment of three-month imprisonment and being debarred from practising in the SC for three years.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari had convicted Bhushan on August 20 through a 108-page judgment for tweeting “false and malicious” statements to scandalise the court besides the present and former CJIs. On Monday, it came out with an 82-page sentencing judgment rejecting his defence as “neither bona fide nor in public interest”. The bench held that the lawyer’s responses aggravated the crime of contempt.
Minutes after the judgment, Bhushan circulated a photograph holding a one-rupee coin while posing with his counsel Rajeev Dhavan to indicate that he had accepted the punishment and would pay the fine before the September 15 deadline to avoid imprisonment and debarment from practice. Hours later, he held a press conference where he modified his earlier statement accusing CJIs of playing a role in the “destruction of democracy” in the last six years to settle for a generalised statement that the SC had deviated from the sterling position it had held earlier.
The SC said it was all for showing magnanimity and closing the case if Bhushan had shown remorse and tendered an apology. “The court, from the very beginning, was desirous of giving quietus to this matter. Directly or indirectly, the contemnor was persuaded to end this matter by tendering an apology and saving the grace of the institution as well as the individual, who is an officer of the court. However, for reasons best known to him, he has neither shown regret in spite of our persuasion or the advice of the attorney general. Thus, we have to consider imposing an appropriate sentence upon him,” it said.
The bench said said the actions of the contemnor were grave and serious. “When the senior-most functionary in the legal profession of the stature of the AG was giving advice to express regret and withdraw the wild allegations, a lawyer of such a long standing (Bhushan) was expected to give due respect to it. Even our request made to him has gone in vain. Thus, we feel that the simple issuance of warning is not going to suffice in the instant case,” the court said.
Shrugging off Dhavan’s argument that punishing Bhushan would make him a “martyr”, the bench said, “Pursuant to the conviction in a criminal case, the Bar Council of India can suspend the enrolment, if it so desires. It is also open to this court to debar from practising in a court. We are not afraid of sentencing the contemnor either with imprisonment or from debarring him from practice.
“His conduct reflects ego, which has no place in the system of administration of justice and in a noble profession, and no remorse is shown for the harm done to the institution to which he belongs. At the same time, we cannot retaliate merely because the contemnor has made a statement that he is neither invoking the magnanimity or the mercy of this court and he is ready to submit to the penalty that can be lawfully inflicted upon him for what the court has determined to be an offence,” the SC said.
Watch SC fines Prashant Bhushan one rupee for contempt of court