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Bhushan Won’t Make ‘Insincere’ Apology, SC Lists Hearing on 25 Aug

The lawyer’s statement to the court says that he still holds to his beliefs and made his statements in good faith.

Updated
Law
4 min read
Image of Prashant Bhushan used for representational purposes.
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On Monday, 24 Augusts, activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan filed an official statement in the Supreme Court in which he confirmed that he will not be making an apology for his tweets about the judiciary, for which the apex court has found him guilty of criminal contempt.

The Supreme Court has now listed the case for a hearing on Tuesday, 25 August, consider the effect of this supplementary statement.

“My tweets represented this bonafide belief that I continue to hold. Public expression of these beliefs was I believe, in line with my higher obligations as a citizen and a loyal officer of this court. Therefore, an apology for expression of these beliefs, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere.”
Prashant Bhushan

The judges had given the public interest lawyer and activist time till Monday, 24 August, to submit an “unconditional apology”.

However, Bhushan said that he has a duty, especially as an officer of the court, to speak up when he believes there has been a deviation from the Supreme Court’s “sterling record” when it comes to its key role in India’s democracy.

“Therefore I expressed myself in good faith, not to malign the Supreme Court or any particular Chief Justice, but to offer constructive criticism so that the court can arrest any drift away from its long-standing role as a guardian of the Constitution and custodian of peoples’ rights,” he wrote.

As he continued to hold to his beliefs, made the statements bonafide and provided details to the court to plead that his statements were truthful, he said that it would be insincere of him to offer any apology for them.

He concluded by saying:

“If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem.”

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

In its order dated 20 August, a three-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai, and Krishna Murari had reserved its decision on what the penalty should be for Bhushan, for the offence of contempt.

The bench had heard arguments on sentencing from Bhushan’s lawyers, senior advocates Rajeev Dhavan and Dushyant Dave, who had argued that the longstanding lawyer-activist’s record of fighting important cases, and the fact that his tweets were put out in good faith, should be considered when deciding what punishment to give him.

Attorney General for India KK Venugopal came out in support of Bhushan, arguing that he should not be punished, and also mentioning to the judges that he had lists of retired judges of the Supreme Court, who held similar views as the lawyer.

The judges informed the AG that they could only accept his suggestion not to punish Bhushan if he issued an apology.

In the order, the judges stated that if Bhushan submitted an apology, then they would conduct a hearing on 25 August to consider it. Although Bhushan has not offered an apology, the judges have still listed the case, to consider the effect of his new statement.

The Supreme Court has wide discretion when it comes to contempt, under Article 129 of the Constitution of India. It is not bound by the Contempt of Courts Act 1971, and so can even impose more than six months’ imprisonment, and/or a fine for someone held guilty of contempt.

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FULL TEXT OF THE STATEMENT BY PRASHANT BHUSHAN

It is with deep regret that I read the order of this Hon’ble Court dated 20th of August. At the hearing the court asked me to take 2-3 days to reconsider the statement I made in the court. However, the order subsequently states: “We have given time to the contemnor to submit unconditional apology, if he so desires.”

I have never stood on ceremony when it comes to offering an apology for any mistake or wrongdoing on my part. It has been a privilege for me to have served this institution and bring several important public interest causes before it. I live with the realization that I have received from this institution much more than I have had the opportunity to give it. I cannot but have the highest regard for the institution of the Supreme Court.

I believe that the Supreme Court is the last bastion of hope for the protection of fundamental rights, the watchdog institutions and indeed for constitutional democracy itself. It has rightly been called the most powerful court in the democratic world, and often an exemplar for courts across the globe. Today in these troubling times, the hopes of the people of India vest in this Court to ensure the rule of law and the Constitution and not an untrammeled rule of the executive.

This casts a duty, especially for an officer of this court like myself, to speak up, when I believe there is a deviation from its sterling record. Therefore I expressed myself in good faith, not to malign the Supreme Court or any particular Chief Justice, but to offer constructive criticism so that the court can arrest any drift away from its long-standing role as a guardian of the Constitution and custodian of peoples’ rights.

My tweets represented this bonafide belief that I continue to hold. Public expression of these beliefs was I believe, in line with my higher obligations as a citizen and a loyal officer of this court. Therefore, an apology for expression of these beliefs, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere. An apology cannot be a mere incantation and any apology has to, as the court has itself put it, be sincerely made. This is especially so when I have made the statements bonafide and pleaded truths with full details, which have not been dealt with by the Court. If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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