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Supreme Court to proceed against Prashant Bhushan in contempt case

J. Venkatesan
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Bench had sought an apology for his interview alleging corruption in judiciary

Prashant Bhushan
Prashant Bhushan

With advocate Prashant Bhushan — facing contempt of court charges for his interview alleging corruption in judiciary — making it clear that he would not tender an apology, the Supreme Court on Thursday decided to proceed with the case on merits.

On December 7, 2010, a Bench of Justices Altamas Kabir, Cyriac Joseph and H.L. Dattu, hearing a contempt petition against Mr. Bhushan and Managing Editor of Tehelka magazine Tarun Tejpal for publishing the interview, had asked the two contemnors to consider offering an apology.

“Judge of integrity”

During the resumed hearing on Thursday, senior counsel Ram Jethmalani, appearing for Mr. Bhushan, submitted a written statement on behalf of Mr. Bhushan which said: “My remarks regarding the present Chief Justice of India, S.H. Kapadia, in my interview published by Tehelka magazine, appears to have given rise to some misunderstanding about the purport of those remarks. It is wrong and most unfortunate that my remarks appear to have been misconstrued by some as imputations of financial corruption. Justice Kapadia is widely perceived to be a Judge of absolute financial integrity and I fully share that perception.”

“On March 25, 2010, my senior counsel Mr. Jethmalani made a statement in my presence and with my concurrence on this issue which has been recorded by the court to the effect that: let it also be recorded that it has been submitted by Mr. Ram Jethmalani, senior counsel appearing for Mr. Prashant Bhushan that his client has the highest regard for Justice S.H. Kapadia and no disrespect was meant to his Lordship in regard to certain statements attributed to him which have been published in the Press.

“I have thus made it clear at every stage of the proceedings that I have the highest respect for the integrity and character of Justice Kapadia, the present CJI. Under the circumstances, I do not think that I owe any further explanation and this explanation should suffice to put an end to any misunderstanding about the purport of my remarks.”

When Justice Kabir, after perusing the statement, asked counsel “why can't Mr. Prashant tender an apology or regret,” Mr. Jethmalani said: “You [court] cannot extract an apology from my client. Contempt proceedings should not proceed under somebody's threat. Only cowards who are not willing to face the proceedings will tender such an apology. I will not advice my client to tender [an] apology.”

When the Bench passed a brief order that it was not accepting the statement and would go ahead with the case on merits, Mr. Jethmalani said, “If the proceedings are allowed to go on, it would open a can of worms.” Justice Kabir replied: “If they are to be opened, open it.”

Mr. Jethmalani said: “Everyone knows what is happening in this court for the last two years but no one dared to speak. If people should suffer for talking truth then millions of people are ready to go behind bars.” Justice Kabir replied, “Let it be.”

Senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Mr. Tejpal, said his client was adopting the stand of Mr. Bhushan and said: “If truth is going to be the defence then some of the former CJIs will come under X-ray.”

Justice Cyriac Joseph observed: “Sometimes even Judges express regret to the counsel if they feel that a particular thing was understood in a particular manner and which was not the intention of the counsel. Similarly, there may be nothing wrong in offering regret by the contemnors if the perception of others is that what they said is contempt.”

When the former Union Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan, who had alleged that there was corruption in the judiciary and wanted his application to be heard, the Bench said it would consider it on the next date of hearing. The Bench, which had already held that the contempt petition was maintainable, would hear the case on merits from April 13.

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