The Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra on Tuesday directed the listing of the 2009 contempt case against Prashant Bhushan before another bench on September 10 based on the orders of CJI.
"I am short of time. I am demiting office", J Mishra observed.
Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Bhushan, submitted that he has raised some questions of law and that the matter ought to be referred to Constitution Bench. Dhavan also urged the bench to hear Attorney General as issues of constitutional importance are involved.
"These questions must be resolved for "once and for all". The Court's free speech jurisprudence has expanded and its impact on contempt law must be considered", Dhavan submitted(The questions framed by Bhushan may be read here).
However, Justice Mishra observed that there was paucity of time, given the fact that he was retiring on September 3.
Justice Mishra therefore said that it was appropriate that the matter was considered by another bench on September 10.
The question whether notice should be issued to the Attorney General is also left to the other bench, Justice Mishra said.
On August 17, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai & Krishna Murari stated that the following questions, having larger ramifications, arose in the case:
(i) In case a public statement as to corruption by a particular Judge(s) is permissible, under what circumstances and on what basis, it can be made, and safeguards, if any, to be observed in that regard ?
(ii) What procedure is to be adopted to make complaint in such cases when the allegation is about the conduct of a sitting Judge ?
(iii) Whether against retired Judge(s), any allegation as to corruption can be made publicly, thereby shaking the confidence of general public in the judiciary; and whether the same would be punishable under the Contempt of Courts Act?
On August 10, the Court had decided to hold a detailed hearing on whether to accept the explanation tendered by Advocate Prashant Bhushan in the contempt case and whether corruption allegations against judges, by themselves, would constitute contempt.
The subject matter of the case is an interview given by Bhushan to Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka magazine in 2009, where he allegedly said that for his allegations, half of the last 16 Chief Justices were corrupt. As per the complaint, Bhushan also said in the interview that he had no proof for the allegations.
On August 4, a bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari had reserved orders on whether to accept his explanation and said that it will proceed to hear the case in detail if his explanation was not found acceptable.
"In case we do not accept the explanation/apology, we will hear the matter. We reserve the order", the bench noted in the order.
As per the press release issued by Prashant Bhushan's office, he refused to tender an apology but agreed to issue the following explanation.
"In my interview to Tehelka in 2009 I have 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. 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."
The suo motu case was taken on the basis of a complaint made by Senior Advocate Harish Salve.
The contempt proceedings pertain to allegations made by Salve towards Bhushan where Bhushan allegedly said that half of the last 16 Chief Justices were corrupt. As per the complaint, Bhushan also said in the interview that he had no proof for the allegations.
On November 6, 2009, the complaint was placed before a bench comprising the then Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice S H Kapadia, which directed that the matter be listed before a 3-judge bench in which Justice Kapadia was not a member.
On January 19, 2010, a bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir, Cyriac Joseph and H L Dattu issued notices to Bhushan and Tarun Tejpal, the Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka magazine
With inputs from Akshita Saxena