Prashant Bhushan has refused to apologise after the three-day time window given by the top court.

New Delhi:

Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, who has refused to apologise for his tweets on Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and the Supreme Court, should be pardoned with a warning, the government’s top lawyer KK Venugopal argued today before top court judges.

“Let him go with a warning to tell him ‘please don’t repeat this in future’,” the Attorney General told the Supreme Court, urging it to “show statesmanship” and not use its power of contempt.

The Supreme Court took a 30-minute break from the hearing to allow Prashant Bhushan to think on withdrawing a 100-page statement he submitted on Monday, in which he not only refused to apologise but also said: “The hopes of the people of India vest in this Court to ensure the rule of law and the Constitution and not an untrammeled rule of the executive.” 

Reacting to the statement, the Supreme Court asked Mr Venugopal: “Tell us what is to be done. We expected a different statement.”

The government lawyer said several sitting and retired judges had commented on corruption in the higher judiciary. “These statements would only be to tell the Court that you should look at the unclear and reform yourself,” Mr Venugopal said.

In his statement, Mr Bhushan, held guilty of contempt, refused to retract or apologise for his tweets after the three-day time window given by the top court. He said the tweets represented a bonafide belief that he holds and an apology, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere. Retracting now would be a “contempt of my conscience” and the court, he said.

Responding to the Attorney General’s suggestion, Justice Arun Mishra said: “But he doesn’t think whatever he did was wrong. He did not submit an apology… People make mistakes, sometimes even in bona fide mistakes are made. But he does not think he did anything wrong. What to do when someone does not think they did something wrong?”

Mr Venugopal replied: “I myself wanted to file a contempt against Prashant Bhushan when two CBI officers were fighting, and he said I fabricated documents. But after he expressed regret, I withdrew. Let the democracy follow in this case when he has exercised his free speech.”

He said it would be “tremendously appreciated” if the court left it at that and took a compassionate view.

“If he believes he has done no wrong, what’s the purpose of this warning,” Justice Mishra questioned.

Noting that Mr Bhushan “gave colour” to a simple case about his tweets, Justice Mishra said: “He has made several disparaging remarks against this institution, judges of this court.”

When the Attorney General requested the court not to consider his response, Justice Mishra said: “How can we not? Everyone is criticising us that we haven’t considered his response which according to us is even more derogatory. Now if we remove it, we will be blamed we deleted this on our own.”

Mr Venugopal argued that Mr Bhushan had expressed regret in the 2009 contempt case over remarks on corruption in judiciary. “Let him say this in the present matter too and say he expresses regret. That will be the statesmanship.”

Justice Mishra then said: “Please read his reply. See what he has said, Supreme Court has collapsed. Isn’t that objectionable?”

The Supreme Court has done so much for the poor, undertrials, Mr Venugopal pressed on.

Justice Mishra picked another point from Mr Bhushan’s statement. “His reply says this court is becoming executive-minded. What do you say to this? How do we not consider all this? Prioritisation of cases has also been adversely commented upon. Ayodhya case has been commented upon. Which judge is left out, sitting or retired,” he asked.

At the last hearing on Thursday, the court had sought an unconditional apology and had asked the 63-year-old to “reconsider” his statement.

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