The Supreme Court on Monday framed larger questions for consideration in the 11-year old the suo-moto contempt case against Advocate Prashant Bhushan for alleging that at least half of the 16 Chief Justices of India were corrupt in an interview given to Tehelka magazine in 2009.
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?
During the hearing, Justice Arun Mishra told Dr.Rajeev Dhavan, Senior Advocate appearing for Bhushan, that here is a judgment by Justice J S Verma, which says corruption allegations against judges should not be made public at the first instance, and should be submitted before the Court in its administrative side for an internal inquiry.
The issue whether such allegations can be made with respect to sub-judice cases is also relevant for consideration, Justice Mishra remarked.
Justice Mishra also clarified that the questions were not in reference to any particular individual.
Dr. Dhavan agreed that the questions were "meaningful", and submitted that they need to be considered by a larger bench. Justice Arun Mishra replied that this aspect (reference to the larger bench) will also be considered.
The matter has been accordingly adjourned till August 25.
2009 Contempt Case Against Prashant Bhushan @pbhushan1 :SC frames 3 questions of law in relation to whether, when and how public allegations of corruption against judges can be made. Read the 3 questions of law here 👇 pic.twitter.com/ZD3gGaEbLQ— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) August 17, 2020
2009 Contempt Case Against Prashant Bhushan @pbhushan1 :SC frames 3 questions of law in relation to whether, when and how public allegations of corruption against judges can be made. Read the 3 questions of law here 👇 pic.twitter.com/ZD3gGaEbLQ
Justice Arun Mishra also said during the hearing that they would like to put the issue to a 'quietus'.
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.
Today, Dr.Dhavan told the bench that corruption allegations, per se, will not constitute contempt, and that the context and circumstances of allegations have to be looked into.
He submitted that Justice Arun Mishra, while he was a judge of Calcutta HC, was part of a judgment which held that the corruption allegations made by Mamta Banerjee against judges did not amount to contempt per se.
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.
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