SC pulls up Prashant Bhushan over "CJIs are corrupt" remark
The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan while hearing the concluding arguments in a 2009 contempt case, initiated against him by celebrated lawyer Harish Salve. A bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra, told Bhushan, who remained stern despite the charges against him, that there was a thin line between free speech and contempt. Here's everything that happened inside the court.
More than a decade ago, Bhushan found himself in troubled waters after he told journalist Tarun Tejpal, who headed Tehelka magazine at the time, that half of the past 16 chief justices of India were corrupt. In 2009, the top court issued notices to Tejpal and Bhushan for their critical opinions against some sitting and former judges.
Last month, Justice Mishra's bench, also including Justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, issued suo motu notices to Bhushan in connection to his 2009 remarks and two recent tweets, which supposedly brought disrepute to the judiciary. While Bhushan was represented by lawyer Rajeev Dhavan, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal was Tejpal's representative. The hearing was conducted virtually in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
Notably, Bhushan, through his lawyer late Ram Jethmalani, had maintained his statements at the time don't translate to contempt against court. Rejecting his arguments, SC had ordered that the contempt case must proceed. In fact, Bhushan's father, former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, also filed an affidavit, saying he had the same views as his son's regarding corrupt CJIs. The last hearing happened in 2012.
During today's hearing, Dhavan told the bench that if they looked through Jethmalani's arguments, they would shut the matter. But Justice Mishra remarked that this case was about "saving the grace of the system," and he would explain the complexities to Dhavan later. Thereafter, all mics were muted and the bench phoned Dhavan. This hints there would be no open hearing in this matter.
Meanwhile, Bhushan has also stood by his tweets which have triggered another case against him. The matter will be heard tomorrow. In one tweet, Bhushan posted a photo of CJI SA Bobde, riding a Harley Davidson bike. And in another tweet, the lawyer hinted that democracy was destroyed in the last six years under the watch of the last four CJIs.
Facing serious charges, Bhushan filed an affidavit in SC but didn't express regret. Other than admitting that he wrongfully slammed Bobde for not wearing a helmet, when the bike wasn't moving, Bhushan said he did nothing wrong. Defending himself, he wrote, "To assume and suggest that 'CJI is the SC, and SC is the CJI', is to undermine the institution of SC."
"In any healthy democracy, there needs to be a free and frank discussion about the role of any and every institution, especially an institution as critical as the Supreme Court," Bhushan told the court through his 134-page affidavit.