Prashant Bhushan refuses to apologise to SC; issues fresh statement [25.8.2020]

New Delhi, 25.8.2020 (Says insincere apology would amount to 'contempt of my conscience')

Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Monday refused to apologise for his contemptuous tweets scandalising the judiciary and asked the Supreme Court to recall its August 14 order convicting him of contempt of court.

In a fresh statement filed in top court, a defiant Bhushan said an insincere apology would amount to “contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem”.

An apology for expression of beliefs, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere, Bhushan said in a two-page statement filed in the court.

In a separate written submission filed during the day, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, urged the court to recall its conviction order.

“There should not be any attempt to coerce the contemnor into making on apology on the basis that nothing else would be acceptable. 
“It is submitted the convicting judgment should be recalled suo motu. In any event no sentence be imposed,” Dhavan’ written submission read.

Dhavan said Bhushan’s comments were opinion made in good faith founded on true facts, adding similar opinions were made before as was demonstrated by Attorney General KK Venugopal.

The AG too had urged the court not to punish Bhushan for contempt of court.

Dhavan sought to highlight the fact that in the present controversy similar comments were made by Justices Lokur, Kurian Joseph and AP Shah, besides veteran journalist Arun Shourie and others in the public and reported by the medui. “It would follow that they were all in contempt,” Dhavan submitted.

Following intervention of the Attorney General, the top court had on August 20 granted time till August 24 to Bhushan to reconsider his “defiant statement” refusing to apologise. 

A Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra had rejected his request that quantum of punishment be decided by another Bench and posted the matter to August 25 for considering the “unconditional apology”, if any filed by Bhushan. 

Bhushan said as an officer of court, it was his duty to speak up when he believed there was 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,” he said.  

He said, “My tweets represented this bona fide 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.” 

Bhushan said 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 bona fide 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,” he said.

Bhushan said he believes 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 untrammelled rule of the executive,” he said. 

The activist-lawyer said that he has never stood on ceremony when it comes to offering an apology for any mistake or wrongdoing on his part and it has been a privilege for him to have served this institution and bring several important public interest causes before it.  

“I live with the realisation 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,” he said. 

The court had on August 14 held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary, saying they can’t be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.

He faces simple imprisonment of up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both as punishment.

25 Aug 2020