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Published On: Mon, Aug 31st, 2020

‘I gratefully accept SC verdict’, Re 1 fine paid: Prashant Bhushan

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rajeev DhavanNEW DELHI : In a bizarre turn to one of the most-watched cases in the Supreme Court in 2020, the Justice Arun Mishra-headed bench has asked advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan to pay a fine of Re 1 in the contempt case. If he doesn’t pay the fine by September 15, he can face jail for three months and a ban from practicing for three years.
“Freedom of speech cannot be curtailed,” said the Supreme Court while handing down the sentence, referring to “sane advice” from Attorney General KK Venugopal to the court and to Prashant Bhushan.
“My lawyer & senior colleague Rajiv Dhavan contributed 1 Re immediately after the contempt judgement today which I gratefully accepted,” the 63-year-old tweeted.
The top court fined Bhushan after finding him guilty in a case of contempt for two tweets regarding Justice SS Bobde and the Supreme Court. Bhushan has been asked to pay the fine by September 15 failing which he could face a jail term for three months besides a debarment from practice for a period of three years.
The verdict and the “punishment” came as a surprise to many and social media was instantly filled with reactions. Photos of a smiling Bhushan holding up a one rupee coin along with senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan who defended him in Court.
Defenders of the apex court, however, called the verdict fair, stating that it proved that “no one was above the law”, as proclaimed by advocate and Twitter user Gaurav Bhatia.
While the verdict brought cheer among the supporters of Bhushan who had been criticizing the court’s contempt proceedings as an assault on free speech, some cautioned that Prashant may have owed this ‘moral victory’ to his privilege and that others in his place with lesser privilege and influence might not have fared the same.

The SC bench, also comprising Justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, said an order on sentencing was a must in the given circumstances. The court agreed with Attorney General KK Venugopal’s submissions that there does not need to be a stringent punishment or a jail term for Bhushan in view of his contribution as a lawyer.
The bench, in its order, took note that Bhushan chose not to apologise or express regret despite repeated opportunities. The Top Court, which had asked for an unconditional apology from the lawyer, noted, “We gave several opportunities and encouragement to (Prashant Bhushan) to express regret. He not only gave wide publicity to the second statement but also gave various interviews to press.”
The court was apparently referring to Prashant Bhushan’s statement refusing to retract his comments or apologise, saying he considered it the discharge of his “highest duty” and apologising would be contempt of his conscience and the court. Mr Bhushan also said in the statement that open criticism was necessary to “safeguard the democracy and its values.”
The statement “was to influence independent Judicial function,” the Supreme Court said, adding that while freedom of expression was important, rights of others should also be respected.

In the last hearing, Attorney General KK Venugopal had suggested that Mr Bhushan be let off with a warning. “Bhushan’s tweets seek the improvement of the administration of justice… Let democracy follow in this case when he has exercised his free speech… It will be tremendously appreciated if the court leaves it at that,” he had said.

Mr Bhushan’s counsel Rajeev Dhavan had argued that top court’s order giving him time for an unconditional apology, was “an exercise in coercion”. Mr Bhushan should be forgiven with a message he said, arguing: “One cannot be silenced forever… A message that he (Prashan Bhushan) should be little restrained in future should be enough.”
In one of the tweets, Mr Bhushan had said four previous Chief Justices of India played a role in destroying democracy in India in the last six years. Another tweet reacting to a photo of Chief Justice Bobde on a Harley Davidson last month had flagged that he was without a helmet and face mask while keeping the court in lockdown and denying citizens their right to justice.
The Bench went on to note that it had given Bhushan several opportunities to express regret for making his contemptuous statements. It also stated that Bhushan gave publicity to the events surrounding the contempt case by going to the press. It said,
“Court’s decision should not be preempted by publication of opinions in the press.” However, the Bench ultimately saw it fit to impose a token fine of Rs. 1 on Bhushan.
(With Agency Inputs ).

 

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