The Supreme Court on Monday decided to scrutinise activist-advocate Prashant Bhushan’s 2009 allegation that “half of the 16 former CJIs were corrupt” to determine whether it would amount to contempt of court.
In a single-sentence order, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari said, “Before reaching any finding whether the statement made as to ‘corruption’ would per se amount to contempt of court, the matter is required to be heard.” The bench posted the matter for further hearing on August 17.
As the court decided to go ahead with scrutiny of Bhushan’s 2009 media interview in which he accused former CJIs of “corruption”, it appears that the SC is of the view that it is not a case to be closed on the basis of Bhushan’s August 4 in-camera statement. The lawyer had refused to tender an apology while expressing complete faith in the judiciary. However, he had regretted that his remarks meant to attribute “lack of propriety” to the CJIs were misunderstood as accusations of financial corruption.
Bhushan had said, “In my interview with Tehelka in 2009, I used the word corruption in a wide sense, meaning lack of propriety. I did not mean only financial corruption or deriving any pecuniary advantage. If what I have said caused hurt to any of them or to their families in any way, I regret the same.” Then editor of Tehelka Tarun Tejpal too faces contempt proceedings along with Bhushan.
Before deciding to hold in-camera proceedings on August 4, the bench had said, “We are for freedom of speech but there is a thin line between freedom of speech and contempt of court. Can you (Bhushan’s counsel Rajeev Dhavan) as an officer of the court solve this puzzle — save freedom of speech and save the grace and dignity of the judicial system? Can you suggest a way out of this rigmarole? The system does not curtail freedom of speech.”
After the hearing got over, Bhushan’s office had said, “In the hearing of the 2009 contempt matter against Prashant Bhushan… the bench instead of open-court hearing, spoke to the counsel for the respondents, Dhavan and Kapil Sibal over WhatsApp calls. The judges told the counsel that they wanted to put an end to the matter to protect the dignity of the court and of the judges. They, therefore, asked the parties to issue statements tendering their apologies. Bhushan refused to tender an apology.”
Bhushan’s statement, annexed to theac release, said, “I unreservedly state that I support the institution of the judiciary and especially the Supreme Court of which I am a part, and had no intention to lower the prestige of the judiciary in which I have complete faith. I regret if my interview was misunderstood as doing so, that is, lower the reputation of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, which could never have been my intention at all.”