Today the Bench of Justice Arun Mishra, Justice B.R.Gavai and Justice Krishna Murari delivered Judgment/Order on the issue of Sentence of Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Advocate and sentenced Mr. Prashant Bhushan with a fine or Re.1/- (Rupee one) to be deposited with the Registry of this Court by 15.09.2020, failing which he shall undergo a simple imprisonment for a period of three months and further be debarred from practicing in this Court for a period of three years.
Earlier on 14.08.2020, a bench comprising of Hon’ble Mr. Justice Arun Mishra, Hon’ble Mr. Justice B.R. Gavai and Hon’ble Mr. Justice Krishna Murari, delivered a crucial judgment (Read Here) in the case of INRE: Prashant Bhusan and Another…..Alleged Contemnor(s), holding that Mr. Prashan Bhushan (Advocate) is guilty of committing criminal contempt of the Supreme Court of India over his derogatory tweets against the Judiciary. The Hon’ble Court fixed 20th August 2020 for hearing on the issue of quantum of sentence.
There after Prashant Bhsuhan had submitted a new affidavit in the Supreme Court, in which he had refused to apologise, saying it will be insincere to do so. Bhushan submitted he stands by his bonafide belief, which, he said, were expressed through his two tweets
On 20th August when the court was hearing Prashant Bhushan on the quantum of sentence the Attorney General of India, Mr. K.K. Venugopal had urged the Court to let Bhushan off with a reprimand. Senior Counsel Rajeev Dhavan also, who urged for Bhushan, requested the Court to not to “not make him a martyr” by sending him to prison.
Following are the Important observations of Supreme Court in the Judgment:
- We find no justification to make such a remark/tweet, particularly when it is made by a lawyer with 35 years standing like Shri Prashant Bhushan, who is an officer of the Court and advocates enjoy equal dignity in the system. In spite of learned Attorney General’s insistence that the averments made in the defence should be withdrawn and regret should be submitted, Dr. Dhavan, learned senior counsel, stated that the contemnor is not ready to withdraw the defence taken in the reply. That further makes it clear that while insisting with the unjustifiable defence and insistence to go with it makes the entire episode the one which cannot be ignored.
- Truth can be the defence to the Judges also, but they are bound by their judicial norms, ethics, and code of conduct. Similarly, the code of conduct for advocates is equally applicable to the lawyers also, being part of the system. The Rules of Professional Ethics formed by the Bar Council, though couched under statutory power, are themselves not enough to prescribe or proscribe the nobility of profession in entirety. The nobility of profession encompasses, over and above, the Rules of Ethics. Lawyers, as a class, are looked by the public as intelligentsia, as observed in R. Muthukrishnan v. The Registrar General of The High Court of Judicature at Madras, (2019) 16 SCC 407.
- The tweet has been made by the lawyer who has the standing of 35 years and who is involved in several public interest litigations. However, merely because a lawyer is involved in the filing of the public interest litigation for the public good it does not arm him to harm the very system of which he is a part. Though expectation from an ordinary citizen may be different, the duties and expectations that are expected from a lawyer of long standing are on higher side. An advocate cannot forget his ethical duty and responsibility and cannot denigrate the very system of which he/she is an integral part. Fair criticism is not to be silenced, but an advocate has to remind himself/herself, where he/she crosses the zone of propriety, and the Court cannot continuously ignore it, and the system cannot be made to suffer. When the criticism turns into malicious and scandalous allegations thereby tending to undermine the confidence of the public and the institution as a whole, such a criticism cannot be ignored.
- Dr. Dhavan, learned senior counsel, has submitted that this Court will be criticized, in case it inflicts any punishment upon Shri Prashant Bhushan. We are unmoved by this submission. While exercising our judicial functions, we cannot take into consideration whether we will be praised or criticized for the judgment which we render. We are required to decide the cases on the basis of the law as it correctly stands, in our perception and understanding. We are not expected to decide the matter on the basis as to whether there will be criticism of the judgment or not. We have to be always ready for its fair criticism.
- With respect to the offender, as stated by Shri Prashant Bhushan in his affidavit that he is a lawyer having of 35 years of standing and has also pursued various public interest litigations. No doubt that this would be a relevant factor while balancing the decision to be taken by the Court. However, at the same time, the uncalled statements made in the affidavit for pursuing truth as a defence can also not be ignored. Since, in 2009 contempt petition various questions have been framed by this Court which will have to be answered, the pendency of the said contempt petition cannot be considered to be a factor in reflecting on the question of sentence in the present matter.
- It was argued by Dr. Dhavan, learned senior counsel, that in case the contemnor is sent to the imprisonment, he will attain martyrdom, and he also should not be debarred from the practice. He further stated that the Court could not pass an order debarring the contemnor from practicing unless a prior notice was issued to him and an opportunity of hearing was given in that regard.
- The Court, from the very beginning, was desirous of giving quietus to this matter. Directly or indirectly, the contemnor was persuaded to end this matter by tendering an apology and save the grace of the institution as well as the individual, who is an officer of the Court. However, for the reasons best known to him he has neither shown regret in spite of our persuasion or the advice of the learned Attorney General. Thus, we have to consider imposing an appropriate sentence upon him.
- Duly balancing the factors urged by Dr. Dhavan as to the offender, offence, the convicting judgment and the defence taken we have to decide the question of sentence. In our considered view, the act committed by the contemnor is a very serious one. He has attempted to denigrate the reputation of the institution of administration of justice of which he himself is a part. At the cost of repetition, we have to state that the faith of the citizens of the country in the institution of justice is the foundation for rule of law which is an essential factor in the democratic set up.
- We have given deep thought as to what sentence should be imposed on the contemnor. The conduct of the present contemnor also needs to be taken into consideration. This Court in Tehseen Poonawala (supra) has observed that the said matter was a fit matter wherein criminal contempt proceedings were required to be initiated. However, the court stopped at doing so observing that it would have been an unequal fight. The learned Attorney General had also initiated contempt proceedings against the present contemnor, however, on the contemnor submitting regret, the learned Attorney General sought withdrawal of the said proceedings. However, the said proceedings are still pending. In the present matter also not on one occasion but on several occasions, we not only gave opportunity but also directly or indirectly pursuaded the contemnor to express regret. Not only that the learned Attorney General had also suggested that it was in the fitness of things that a contemnor expresses regret and withdraws the allegation made in the affidavit in reply, which request was not heeded to by the contemnor. The contemnor not only gave wide publicity to the second statement submitted before this Court on 24.08.2020 prior to the same being tendered to the Court, but also gave various interviews with regard to sub judice matter, thereby further attempting to bring down the reputation of this Court. If we do not take cognizance of such conduct it will give a wrong message to the lawyers and litigants throughout the country. However, by showing magnanimity, instead of imposing any severe puishment, we are sentencing the contemnor with a nominal fine of Re.1/- (Rupee one).
- We, therefore, sentence the contemnor with a fine or Re.1/- (Rupee one) to be deposited with the Registry of this Court by 15.09.2020, failing which he shall undergo a simple imprisonment for a period of three months and further be debarred from practicing in this Court for a period of three years.