New SC Bench to Hear 2009 Contempt Case Against Prashant Bhushan

The Justice Arun Mishra bench observed that there are 'broader issues' which need to be deliberated at length.

New Delhi: A new Supreme Court bench will hear the 2009 contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan and journalist Tarun Tejpal next month, with the Justice Arun Mishra bench – which heard the case on Tuesday – noting that there are “broader issues” which need to be deliberated at length. With Justice Mishra scheduled to retire on September 2, the said it is ‘short of time’ and decided to list the matter before an appropriate bench on September 10.

The apex court said the new bench will deal with certain larger questions related to freedom of speech and levelling of corruption charges against the judiciary.

The case is in relation to an interview that Bhushan gave to news magazine Tehelka in 2009. The apex court had in November 2009 issued contempt notices to Bhushan and Tejpal for allegedly casting aspersions on some sitting and former top court judges in the interview. Tejpal was the magazine’s editor.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra was told by senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Prashant Bhushan, that there were as many as 10 questions of constitutional importance that have been raised by him and they needed to be dealt by a constitution bench.

“These are broader issues which need to be deliberated at length. We can have some amicus and it can be adjudicated by an appropriate bench,” said the bench, which also comprised Justices B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari.

The matter will be listed before the appropriate bench on September 10, the bench said in a hearing conducted through video conferencing.

Justice Mishra, who is retiring on September 2, said the matter will need time and observed, “Let us leave this to an appropriate bench.”

The court did not agree to the submissions of Dhavan that it should issue notice to the attorney general K.K. Venugopal seeking his assistance and opinion to deal with the issues raised and said that ‘it is best left to the appropriate bench” which will be set up by the Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde.

Dhavan said the questions raised by Bhushan included the issue whether bona fide opinions of corruption also constitute contempt of court and “whether it is enough to show bona fide of opinion or it is necessary for the person to prove the allegation of corruption”.

They also included whether a complainant is barred from discussing in the public domain the contents of his complaint if an in-house inquiry is started, among others, he said.

Also Read: Why Prashant Bhushan’s Trial for Contempt Should Be Declared a Mistrial

Previous hearings

On August 17, the top court had framed certain questions and asked senior advocates Dhavan, appearing for Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan and Kapil Sibal, to address it on three issues – whether such statements about corruption against judges or judiciary can be made, in what circumstances they can be made and what is the procedure to be adopted with respect to sitting and retired judges.

Then Bhushan, through his lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, filed 10 questions on his own and sought adjudication by a Constitution bench.

“Whether the expression of a bona fide opinion about the extent of corruption in any section of the judiciary would amount to contempt of court,” Bhushan’s plea said.

“If the answer to the question is in the affirmative, whether the person who expresses such an opinion about the extent of corruption in a section of judiciary is obliged to prove that his opinion is correct or whether it is enough to show that he bona fide held that opinion,” the second question read.

He also posed eight other questions related to freedom of speech and expression and the width and scope of contempt powers.

The top court had earlier said that it would consider larger questions in 2009 contempt case against Bhushan and Tejpal on August 25.

In response to the 2009 contempt case, Bhushan had told the apex court that making corruption charges against the judges would not amount to contempt of court and mere utterance of corruption charge could not be contempt of court.

The top court is also scheduled on Tuesday to hear another contempt case against Bhushan, in which he was found guilty of contempt for two tweets. The court has given Bhushan time to reconsider his stand, but Bhushan on Monday refused to apologise for his tweets. He said issuing an insincere apology would amount to contempt of his conscience.

(With PTI inputs)