On Tuesday, Activist-Lawyer Prashant Bhushan moved the Apex Court seeking a direction that his 2 pleas, in which he has sought review of the orders convicting & sentencing him for Contempt of Court for his tweets against the judiciary, be heard after adjudication of his separate petition raising the issue of right to appeal in such matter.
The application has been moved by Bhushan, a day before a 3-Judge bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar is scheduled to consider in-chamber on Wednesday his 2 pleas seeking review of the Supreme Court’s orders by which he was convicted & sentenced in the contempt case.
On Aug 14, the Top Court held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his 2 contemptuous 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.
Later, on Aug 31, the Supreme Court sentenced him to either pay a nominal fine of Re 1 or face a 3-month jail term & debarment from law practice for 3 years in the case.
Mr Bhushan, who has already deposited Re 1 as fine with the Supreme Court’s registry on Sept 14, has filed 2 separate review petitions in the case.
After the SC’s orders in the contempt case, Bhushan had filed a separate petition on Sept 12 seeking directions including that person convicted for criminal contempt by SC, including him, would have a right to an intra-court appeal to be heard by a larger & different bench.
In his plea filed through Lawyer Kamini Jaiswal on Tuesday, Bhushan said that prayers made in the Sept 12 plea have “a direct bearing” on the review petitions filed by him.
He said that despite the application seeking urgent listing was filed on Sept 14 in the plea, the matter has not been listed before the court “whereas instant & connected review petitions have been suddenly listed for hearing on Dec 16, 2020”.
The application said it would be in the “interest of justice” if the top court would apply its mind to the review petitions after the separate plea filed by him is heard or adjudicated upon.
In his separate petition filed on Sept 12, Bhushan has suggested procedural changes to reduce the chances of “arbitrary, vengeful & high-handed decisions” in criminal contempt cases saying that in such cases the top court is the aggrieved party, the “prosecutor, the witness & the judge” & hence they raise fear of inherent bias.
The petition has said that right of appeal is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution & is also guaranteed under international law & this would act as a “vital safeguard against wrongful conviction & would truly enable the provision of truth as a defence”.
The plea, to which the Ministry of Law and Justice & the Registrar of the apex court have been made parties, has also sought a direction for framing rules & guidelines “providing for intra-court appeal against conviction in original criminal contempt cases”.
Under the present statutory scheme, a person convicted for the criminal contempt has the right to file review petition against the judgement & that plea is decided in chambers by the bench usually without hearing the contemnor.
In his plea seeking review of the order holding him guilty for contempt of court for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary, Bhushan has contended that it “suffers from multiple errors apparent on the face of the record of both law & of fact”.
Later, he had filed another petition seeking review of the sentencing order which imposed fine on him in the contempt case & sought “an oral hearing in an open court” on the matter.
The Supreme Court, in its verdict in the case, had analysed the two tweets of Bhushan posted on micro-blogging site Twitter on June 27 on the functioning of the judiciary in past 6 years, & on July 22 with regard to CJI S A Bobde.