The Supreme Court Thursday granted two days to activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who has been held guilty of contempt, to reconsider his 'defiant statement' refusing to apologise for his contemptuous tweets against the judiciary.
Bhushan told a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra that he would consult his lawyers and think over the apex court’s suggestion.
Attorney General K K Venugopal urged the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, not to award any punishment to Bhushan in the contempt case saying he has already been convicted.
The bench said it cannot consider the request of Venugopal unless Bhushan reconsiders his earlier stand of not apologising for his tweets.
The tone, tenor and content of Bhushan's statement makes it worse; is it defence or aggravation, the court told Venugopal.
The top court said it can be very lenient if there is realisation of mistake, and posted the matter for further hearing on August 24.
At the outset, it rejected the submission of Bhushan’s counsel that another bench hear the arguments on the quantum of sentence to be awarded in the case. A contemnor can be punished with simple imprisonment of up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both.
The bench gave assurance to Bhushan that no punishment will be acted upon till his review against the order convicting him is decided.
The bench told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing Bhushan, that he is asking them to commit an “act of impropriety” by saying that the argument on sentencing be heard by another bench.
Justice Mishra said that he will be retiring soon and adjournment should not be sought and the review will be decided after this matter is decided finally.
The bench said it is not inclined to hear the application filed by Bhushan on Wednesday seeking deferment of hearing on the sentence till his review petition is decided.
At the outset, Dave sought deferment of hearing on the quantum of sentence in the case saying that he would be filing a review petition against the conviction order.
The top court on August 14 held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his derogatory tweets against the judiciary saying they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
During the hearing, on Thursday, Dave told the bench that “heavens are not going to fall” if the apex court will suspend the hearing on quantum of sentence.
“You are asking us to commit an act of impropriety that arguments on sentencing should be heard by another bench”, the bench said.
It added: “Has it been ever done that hearing on sentencing has been undertaken by the other bench when the main bench is existing?”
The bench told the Attorney General that it will first hear Bhushan on the issue of sentencing. When Dave said that Venugopal should be allowed to argue first, the bench said, “Don’t remind us of the professional norms”.
Bhushan, who himself addressed the court, said that he has been “grossly misunderstood”.
“I am dismayed and disappointed that the court did not find it necessary to provide me the copy of the contempt petition”, he said. “My tweets simply showed my bonafide belief”.
Bhushan said that open criticism is necessary in democracy to safeguard the constitutional order.
“My tweets were a small attempt to discharge what I consider my highest duty...", he said.
"I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal for magnanimity. I cheerfully submit to any punishment that the court may impose..," said Bhushan.
The hearing in the matter is still undergoing.
On August 14, in its 108-page verdict, the top court had said: “The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing criminal contempt.
“In the result, we hold alleged contemnor No.1 - Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of having committed criminal contempt of this Court”.
The top court had, however, discharged the notice issued to Twitter Inc, California, USA in the contempt case after accepting its explanation that it is only an intermediary and does not have any control on what the users post on the platform.
It had said the company has also shown its bona fides immediately after the cognizance was taken by this Court as it has suspended both the tweets.
The top court had analysed the two tweets of Bhushan posted on the micro-blogging site on June 27 on the functioning of judiciary in past six years, and on July 22 with regard to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde.
"In our considered view, it cannot be said that the tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest," it had said.