Prashant Bhushan old contempt case: SC gives time to lawyers

Case was registered in 2009 after court took suo motu cognisance of an interview of Mr. Bhushan in Tehelka in which he remarked about the judiciary

Updated - July 24, 2020 04:55 pm IST

Published - July 24, 2020 02:52 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan at a convention against UAPA and CAA in Kochi on Saturday.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan at a convention against UAPA and CAA in Kochi on Saturday.

The Supreme Court on Friday gave time till August 4 to lawyers to research and prepare their defence for noted civil rights lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former Tehelka magazine editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal in a decade-old contempt case that has popped back into the spotlight.

The case was registered in 2009 after the court took suo motu cognisance of an interview of Mr. Bhushan in Tehelka in which he remarked about the judiciary and the presence of former Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia on the Forest Bench of the apex court which decided the Niyamgiri mining lease case in Odisha in favour of Sterlite Industries.

“The last lawyer who defended Prashant Bhushan was the late Ram Jethmalani. The records of the case run into three or four volumes. I need time to go through them thoroughly”, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, for Mr. Bhushan, urged a three-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal for Tarun Tejpal said the last hearing in the case was in 2012.

“What is the great urgency in hearing it now? Seven years have passed since the last hearing”, he submitted.

To this, Justice Mishra said the court will have to start hearing the case anyway.

“But we need time to prepare”, Mr. Sibal interjected.

“Mr. Sibal, we will give you enough time to prepare. [To Mr. Dhavan] We know your capacity and memory”, Justice Mishra said.

However, he observed that the court was “reluctant” to implead senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, Mr. Prashant Bhushan's father, in the contempt case.

“You are too senior”, Justice Mishra told Mr. Shanti Bhushan.

Mr. Shanti Bhushan said the Bench should wait till the pandemic tides over and physical courts resume. The case cannot effectively be argued in virtual court proceedings. If the court could wait for a decade, it could wait some more.

But Justice Mishra, referring to Mr. Shanti Bhushan's application, said the latter has made submissions which are emotional in nature.

“This is an argument made out of love and affection”, Justice Mishra remarked orally, posting the case for August 4.

On June 22, the same Bench initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against Mr. Prashant Bhushan for his tweets on the “role” of the court in the “last six years” and about a photograph of Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde on a motorbike. The court observed in the order that the tweets undermined the dignity of the Supreme Court and the CJI’s office in the public eye.

This contempt case is separately listed for August 5.

Court’s offer

Last year, Mr. Prashant Bhushan turned down an offer from the Supreme Court to “unconditionally apologise” to a Bench led by Justice Mishra during a contempt proceedings regarding his February 1, 2019 tweets claiming that the government misled the court about the appointment of M. Nageshwar Rao as interim CBI Director.

Justice Mishra had then said that if a lawyer had grievances with the administration of justice by a court, he ought to return to it with his queries rather than voice them in the media.

“This is troubling all of us as an institution. This is happening in all cases of importance. Motives are attributed to judges,”he had observed.

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