Published On: Thu, Aug 20th, 2020
Top News | ByIANS

Freedom of speech not absolute for anyone: SC in Bhushan contempt case

New Delhi,: The Supreme Court on Thursday said freedom of speech is not absolute for anyone and told advocate Prashant Bhushan that the court has found him guilty of contempt.

The bench asked Bhushan to reconsider his statement and said it is inclined to give him time

The remarks were made during the hearing on sentencing of Bhushan, who was found guilty of contempt of court for his tweets making derogatory remarks against the judiciary. Later, Twitter disabled these tweets.

A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra observed that the court is impressed with the list given by Bhushan citing his fight against corruption, and this will weigh in his favour. Justice Mishra added that freedom of speech was framed by the makers of the Constitution with certain riders, and it is not absolute.

The bench asked Bhushan to reconsider his statement and said it is inclined to give him time, as it doesn’t want him to allege in future that he was never given time to reflect upon his statement. Attorney General KK Venugopal contended before the top court that the court may give him some time, and “knowing him for so many years, I could say that he has done some tremendous good work”.

Bhushan contended before the bench that his statement was well considered and thought out, and he can consult his lawyers, but there would not be substantial changes in it. Justice Mishra replied, “if you think your statement is alright then we will go ahead, but if you want to modify it, then the court could give two or three days for you to think over it.”

Bhushan in a statement said, “I have gone through the judgment of this court. I am pained that I have been held guilty of committing contempt of the court whose majesty I have tried to uphold — not as a courtier or cheerleader but as a humble guard — for over three decades, at some personal and professional cost. I am pained, not because I may be punished, but because I have been grossly misunderstood.”

Attorney General KK Venugopal submitted before the Supreme Court that convicting advocate Prashant Bhushan in a contempt case was alright, but “do not punish him”.

A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari replied to the A-G that the tone, tenor, and content of Bhushan’s statement makes it worse. The bench told Venugopal “is it defence or aggravation, you as A-G consider it.”

The A-G clarified that he was not speaking on behalf of the government of India but had responded to the notice issued to the Constitutional office of the Attorney General of India. He insisted, “I make the request to your lordships not to punish him.”

The bench replied that it would never punish anyone for contempt. “Please don’t make any statement till you consider what he has said in his reply”, the bench told the A-G. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, said the criticism of retired judges does not amount to contempt, and there are judgments to this effect.

The A-G contended before the bench that he has a list of 5 judges who talked about lack of democracy in the Supreme Court, and “I also have a list of nine judges who talked about judicial corruption.” Justice Mishra said “We aren’t hearing a review. Our conviction order is already here.”

Justice Gavai observed that “we have said it earlier as well there has to be a mutual respect between the bar and the bench.” Justice Mishra said that whatever has been done is done, and the court wants the person concerned to have a sense of remorse. “You may do hundreds of good things but that doesn’t give you a licence to do 10 crimes”, noted the bench.

Justice Mishra noted that it is after all about this that if a person wants to purge the contempt, one should also know where to draw a line. He added that criminal contempt has far serious consequences, and the court can be very lenient when a person recognises his mistake and expresses regret. The hearing on Bhushan’s sentencing in the contempt case concluded and it appears that he has been given some time to reconsider his statement.

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