The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought an explanation/apology from Advocate Prashant Bhushan in the contempt case taken against him over his remarks made in 2009 that at least half of the former Chief Justices of India were corrupt.
In the order passed, the bench observed that it has not received the explanation/apology submitted by Mr. Prashant Bhushan/ Respondent No.1 and Mr. Tarun Tejpal/Respondent No.2.
"In case we do not accept the explanation/apology, we will hear the matter. We reserve the order", the bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari noted in the order.
Muted VC hearing in morning session
In the morning session, after the hearing continued for approximately 10 minutes, the bench proceeded to conduct the rest of the session "in-camera", muting the video conferencing hearing till afternoon.
When the hearing commenced, Justice Arun Mishra told Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan (appearing for Bhushan) that there existed a "line" between freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution and Contempt, which Bhushan "may have" crossed.
At this juncture, the bench sought Dhavan's assistance and asked him as to how the issue could be accounted for. Dhavan informed the bench that when Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani appeared for Bhushan earlier, he had offered an explanation for his Client's remarks. This, Dhavan stated, could be taken note of so as to "put an end to this".
After this, the bench muted the VC hearing and conversed with Senior Advocates Dhavan and Kapil Sibal (appearing for Tarun Tejpal) over the phone, and asked if the parties will issue statements of apology.
Bhushan refused to tender an apology but agreed to submit a statement of explanation.
Tejpal, however, submitted a statement of apology for the offence caused to the SC due to the publication of the interview.
On the last date of hearing, i.e. on July 24, the bench had adjourned the matter stating. "We need to hear the matter, will give you time so as to let you prepare to your satisfaction", Justice Arun Mishra, who lead the bench, told Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who appeared for Bhushan.
As per the press release issued by Prashant Bhushan's office Mr. Bhushan refused to tender an apology but agreed to issue the following statement.
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."
Mr. Tejpal's statement to the court apparently contained a conditional apology for the offense it had caused the institution of the Supreme Court, as mentioned by Mr. Sibal appearing for Mr. Tejpal during the hearing.
The court however reassembled in the afternoon and when Justice Mishra indicated that he may pass an order holding that any statement of corruption in the judiciary would amount to per se contempt, he was told by Dr. Dhavan, that such a finding cannot be and should not be rendered without hearing the parties. The earlier discussion over whatsapp was only regarding whether the proceedings could be dropped in the light of the statements. Therefore Dr. Dhavan told the court, if the Hon'ble judges wanted to render any finding on whether the interview amounted to contempt or not, they would have to hear the parties fully, on facts and law. The court thereafter reserved judgment.
The suo moto 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.
The complaint was filed by Salve through an interlocutory application filed in the Sterlite case, in which he was the Amicus Curiae.
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.
Incidentally, the same bench - which also includes Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari - had issued notice to Bhushan on July 22 in a suo motu case registered over two of his recent tweets about the judiciary.
Click here to download the order