Prashant Bhushan 2020 Contempt: SC Reserves Judgment, Asks 'What Is Wrong in Seeking Apology?'

The bench led by Justice Arun Mishra held that Bhushan's affidavit too had remarks that were "disparaging."

New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s hearing on sentencing in the case of contempt of court against lawyer Prashant Bhushan ended in late afternoon on August 25 with the bench led by Justice Arun Mishra expounding on the role of an ‘apology’ and saying that Bhushan’s affidavit too had ‘disparaging remarks’. The bench has reserved judgment on the sentence.

On August 14, the same bench had found Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for two of his tweets, one on the Chief Justice of India posing on a bike and another on the judiciary as a whole. On August 20, the top court had granted time till August 24 to Bhushan to reconsider his statement refusing to apologise.

Bhushan has maintained that he will not apologise, both at the first sentence hearing and in a supplementary affidavit filed on August 24.

Also read: Apologising Will Be ‘Contempt to My Conscience’, Prashant Bhushan Tells SC

During the August 25 hearing, Attorney General for India K.K. Venugopal asked the Supreme Court to be ‘compassionate’ in its treatment of Bhushan, while at once holding that, “He [Bhushan] should withdraw all statements in its entirety and express regret.”

“Bhushan says the Supreme Court has collapsed, is it not objectionable?” asked the bench, which also had Justices B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari.

“The court can speak through orders only and even in his affidavit, Bhushan has made disparaging remarks against the judiciary,” the bench told the AG.

Also read: Here’s What the AG Wanted to Say About the Judiciary, Before Justice Arun Mishra Stopped Him

When Venugopal insisted that the court drop the case if there is an expression of regret and if Bhushan’s supplementary affidavit is dropped, the Justice Mishra said, “How can the affidavit be withdrawn when they insist that it should be considered?”

As the bench reconvened, with senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan, Justice Mishra held forth on the apology question.

LiveLaw quoted him as having said:

“Tell us what is wrong in using the word ‘apology’? What is wrong in seeking apology? Will that be reflection of the guilty? Apology is a magical word, which can heal many things. I am talking generally and not about Prashant. You will go to the category of Mahatma Gandhi, if you apologise. Gandhi ji used to do that. If you have hurt anybody, you must apply balm. One should not feel belittled by that.”

The impassioned stress on an apology came from the bench after Dhavan was critical of its contempt judgment and labelled the bench’s attempts at getting an apology out of Bhushan as coercive.

“The order which says that it will only accept unconditional apology is an exercise of coercion,” Dhavan said.

He also cited Bhushan’s right to defence. “An apology cannot be made to escape the clutches of law. An apology has to be sincere,” LiveLaw quoted Dhavan as having said.

Dhavan sought to stress that he too has been critical of the Supreme Court, in over 900 articles on the apex court itself. He also addressed Justice Mishra, seeking to remind him of a previous instance of leniency:

”I remind Justice Arun Mishra that when he was a Chief Justice of Calcutta high court, your Lordships did not initiate contempt against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for her comments that judges are corrupt. Your Lordships took into account her position as Chief Minister.”

Dhavan also maintained that retired Justice Madan B. Lokur, retired Justice Kurian Joseph, Arun Shourie have been among those who have made public comments in the case.

Meanwhile, a new Supreme Court bench will hear the 2009 contempt case against Bhushan and journalist Tarun Tejpal next month, with the Justice Mishra bench noting that there are “broader issues” which need to be deliberated at length. Justice Mishra is scheduled to retire on September 2.