Prashant Bhushan

SC reserves order in Contempt proceedings against Prashant Bhushan after ‘muted’ hearing

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved its orders on acceptability of a statement submitted by activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan who is facing criminal contempt proceedings for his 2009 statement allegedly scandalising the judiciary.

“Explanation/apology submitted by Mr. Prashant Bhushan/ Respondent No.1 and Mr. Tarun Tejpal/Respondent No.2, have not been received so far. In case we do not accept the explanation/apology, we will hear the matter,” a three-judge Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said while reserving its order.

Most part of the hearing that took place in two sessions remained ‘muted’ as the Bench chose to speak to senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, on phone.

The development happened on a day when 16 eminent members of the civil society, including activist Aruna Roy, moved the Supreme Court seeking to intervene in the matter, contending contempt proceedings against Bhushan amounted to stifling free speech.

At the very outset Justice Mishra asked Dhavan to demarcate the thin line between free speech and contempt of court. “How do we save the grace of the system and bring this to an end as well?” the Bench asked Dhavan.

“Mr Bhushan has given an explanation. That explanation can put an end to this,” Dhavan replied.

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Thereafter Justice Mishra spoke to Dhavan and senior counsel Kapil Sibal, representing the then Tehelka Editor Tarun Tejpal, on phone and the hearing appeared to have ended for the day. However, the hearing resumed in late afternoon.

The Bench, which resumed hearing in the matter last month after nine years, said it wanted the parties to issue statements tendering their apologies to end the matter.

Bhushan, who refused to tender an apology, issued a statement expressing regret.

“In my interview to Tehelka in 2009 I have used the word corruption in a wide sense meaning lack of propriety. I did not mean only financial corruption or deriving any pecuniary advantage. If what I have said caused hurt to any of them or to their families in any way, I regret the same,” Bhushan’s wrote in his statement.

“I unreservedly state that I support the institution of the judiciary and especially the Supreme Court of which I am a part, and had no intention to lower the prestige of the judiciary in which I have complete faith,” read the statement.

“I regret if my interview was misunderstood as doing so, that is, lower the reputation of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, which could never have been my intention at all,” the statement added.

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In the post-lunch session, the Bench indicated it might pass an order that allegations of corruption in the judiciary would amount to contempt per se. But Dhavan argued that such can’t be done without hearing the parties.

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