Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction that his two pleas, in which he has sought review of the orders convicting and sentencing him for contempt of court for his tweets against the judiciary, be heard after adjudication of his separate petition raising the issue of right to appeal in such matter.
The application has been moved by Mr. Bhushan, a day before a three-judge Bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar is scheduled to consider in-chamber on Wednesday his two petitions seeking review of the apex court’s orders by which he was convicted and sentenced in the contempt case.
The top court had on August 14 held Prashant Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his two contemptuous 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.
Later, the apex court had on August 31 sentenced him to either pay nominal fine of ₹1 or face a three-month jail term and debarment from law practice for three years in the case.
Mr. Bhushan, who has already deposited ₹1 as fine with the apex court’s registry on September 14, has filed two separate review petitions in the case.
After the apex court’s orders in the contempt case, Mr. Bhushan had filed a separate petition on September 12 seeking directions including that person convicted for criminal contempt by top court, including him, would have a right to an intra-court appeal to be heard by a larger and different Bench.
In his application filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal on Tuesday, Mr. Bhushan said that prayers made in the September 12 petition have a direct bearing on the review petitions filed by him.
He said that despite the application seeking urgent listing was filed on September 14 in the petition, the matter has not been listed before the court whereas instant and connected review petitions have been suddenly listed for hearing on December 16, 2020.
The application said it would be in the interest of justice if the top court would apply its mind to the review petitions after the separate plea filed by him is heard or adjudicated upon.
In his separate petition filed on September 12, Mr. Bhushan has suggested procedural changes to reduce the chances of “arbitrary, vengeful and high-handed decisions” in criminal contempt cases saying that in such cases the top court is the aggrieved party, the “prosecutor, the witness and the judge” and hence they raise fear of inherent bias.
The petition has said that right of appeal is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution and is also guaranteed under international law and this would act as a “vital safeguard against wrongful conviction and would truly enable the provision of truth as a defence”.
The plea, to which the Ministry of Law and Justice and the Registrar of the apex court have been made parties, has also sought a direction for framing rules and guidelines “providing for intra-court appeal against conviction in original criminal contempt cases”.
Under the present statutory scheme, a person convicted for the criminal contempt has the right to file review petition against the judgement and that plea is decided in chambers by the Bench usually without hearing the contemnor.
In his petition seeking review of the order holding him guilty for contempt of court for his two derogatory tweets against the judiciary, Mr. Bhushan has contended that it suffers from multiple errors apparent on the face of the record of both law and of fact.
Later, he had filed another petition seeking review of the sentencing order which imposed fine on him in the contempt case and sought an oral hearing in an open court on the matter.
The top court, in its verdict in the case, had analysed the two tweets of Mr. Bhushan posted on micro-blogging site Twitter 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.