New Delhi: A day before the scheduled hearing on quantum of sentence, activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan who has been held guilty of criminal contempt for his two derogatory tweets, moved the Supreme Court seeking deferment of the proceedings till a review petition is filed and considered.
The top court on August 14 held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his derogatory tweets against the judiciary saying they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
The apex court had said it would hear on August 20, the arguments on the quantum of sentence to be awarded to Bhushan in the matter.
A contemnor can be punished with simple imprisonment of up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both.
Bhushan in his application stated that he intends to file a review petition against the order of August 14 after studying it in detail and seeking appropriate legal counsel as the ramification of the said order is of grave constitutional significance, in particular on the right to free speech.
The Applicant would file the same within the limitation period of 30 days from date of the judgment, as he is entitled to under Order 47 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013. Hence, it is prayed that, in view of the same, the hearing on the sentence as fixed on August 20, 2020, vide the order of August 14, 2020, be deferred till the consideration of the review by this Court, he said in the application filed in the contempt case which was taken suo motu cognizance by the top court.
Bhushan submitted the deferment of the said hearing would be in the interests of justice in view of the underlying public policy with respect to safeguarding liberty of a citizen under Article 21 till such time as his first appeal (in this case the review petition) is considered.
The application said if this Court proceeds with the hearing on the sentence and imposes any sentence, the same may be directed to be stayed till the remedy of review is exhausted by the Applicant .
Bhushan, in his application filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal, said in criminal contempt proceedings, the top court functions like a trial court and is also the last court.
Section 19(1) of the Contempt of Court Act gives a statutory right of appeal to a person found guilty of contempt by the High Court. The fact that there is no appeal against an order of this Court makes it doubly necessary that it takes the utmost precaution to ensure that justice is not only done but seen to be done, he said.
Bhushan said it would be in consonance with the right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Otherwise there would be gross injustice since there would be no occasion to examine the correctness of the findings arrived at in a suo motu criminal contempt proceeding before putting the convicted contemnor’s liberty at stake, he said.
The top court on August 14 held that Bhushan attempted to scandalise the entire institution of the Supreme Court and said, If such an attack is not dealt with, with requisite degree of firmness, it may affect the national honour and prestige in the comity of nations .
In its 108-page verdict, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, had said: The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing criminal contempt.
In the result, we hold alleged contemnor No.1 – Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of having committed criminal contempt of this Court .
The top court had, however, discharged the notice issued to Twitter Inc, California, USA in the contempt case after accepting its explanation that it is only an intermediary and does not have any control on what the users post on the platform.
It had said the company has also shown its bona fides immediately after the cognizance was taken by this Court as it has suspended both the tweets.
The top court had analysed the two tweets of Bhushan posted on the micro-blogging site on June 27 on the functioning of judiciary in past six years, and on July 22 with regard to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde.
“In our considered view, it cannot be said that the tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest,” it had said.