The Supreme Court Thursday granted two days to activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who has been held guilty of contempt, to reconsider his 'defiant statement' refusing to apologise for his contemptuous tweets against the judiciary.
Bhushan told a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra that he would consult his lawyers and think over the apex court's suggestion.
Attorney General K K Venugopal urged the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, not to award any punishment to Bhushan in the contempt case saying he has already been convicted.
The bench said it cannot consider the request of Venugopal unless Bhushan reconsiders his earlier stand of not apologising for his tweets.
The tone, tenor and content of Bhushan's statement makes it worse; is it defence or aggravation, the court told Venugopal.
The top court said it can be very lenient if there is realisation of mistake, and posted the matter for further hearing on August 24.
At the outset, it rejected the submission of Bhushan's counsel that another bench hear the arguments on the quantum of sentence to be awarded in the case. A contemnor can be punished with simple imprisonment of up to six months or with a fine of up to Rs 2,000 or with both.
The A-G clarified that he was not speaking on behalf of the government of India but had responded to the notice issued to the Constitutional office of the Attorney General of India. He insisted, "I make the request to your lordships not to punish him."
The bench replied that it would never punish anyone for contempt. "Please don't make any statement till you consider what he has said in his reply", the bench told the A-G. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, said the criticism of retired judges does not amount to contempt, and there are judgments to this effect.
The A-G contended before the bench that he has a list of 5 judges who talked about lack of democracy in the Supreme Court, and "I also have a list of nine judges who talked about judicial corruption." Justice Mishra said "We aren't hearing a review. Our conviction order is already here."
Justice Gavai observed that "we have said it earlier as well there has to be a mutual respect between the bar and the bench." Justice Mishra said that whatever has been done is done, and the court wants the person concerned to have a sense of remorse. "You may do hundreds of good things but that doesn't give you a licence to do 10 crimes", noted the bench.
Justice Mishra noted that it is after all about this that if a person wants to purge the contempt, one should also know where to draw a line. He added that criminal contempt has far serious consequences, and the court can be very lenient when a person recognises his mistake and expresses regret.
The bench gave assurance to Bhushan that no punishment will be acted upon till his review against the order convicting him is decided.
The bench told senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing Bhushan, that he is asking them to commit an "act of impropriety" by saying that the argument on sentencing be heard by another bench.
Justice Mishra said that he will be retiring soon and adjournment should not be sought and the review will be decided after this matter is decided finally.
The bench said it is not inclined to hear the application filed by Bhushan on Wednesday seeking deferment of hearing on the sentence till his review petition is decided.
A bench headed by Justice Mishra told Bhushan if you do not balance your comments, then you will destroy the institution, and the court does not punish for contempt so easily. "Balancing has to be there; restraint has to be there. There is a Lakshman Rekha for everything. Why should you cross the Rekha?" said Justice Mishra.
At the outset, Dave sought deferment of hearing on the quantum of sentence in the case saying that he would be filing a review petition against the conviction order.
The top court on August 14 held Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his derogatory tweets against the judiciary saying they cannot be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary made in the public interest.
During the hearing, on Thursday, Dave told the bench that "heavens are not going to fall" if the apex court will suspend the hearing on the quantum of sentence.
"You are asking us to commit an act of impropriety that arguments on sentencing should be heard by another bench", the bench said It added: "Has it been ever done that hearing on sentencing has been undertaken by the other bench when the main bench is existing?" The bench told the Attorney General that it will first hear Bhushan on the issue of sentencing. When Dave said that Venugopal should be allowed to argue first, the bench said, "Don't remind us of the professional norms".
Bhushan, who himself addressed the court, said that he has been "grossly misunderstood".
"I am dismayed and disappointed that the court did not find it necessary to provide me the copy of the contempt petition", he said. "My tweets simply showed my bonafide belief".
Bhushan said that open criticism is necessary in democracy to safeguard the constitutional order.
"My tweets were a small attempt to discharge what I consider my highest duty...", he said.
"I do not ask for mercy. I do not appeal for magnanimity. I cheerfully submit to any punishment that the court may impose..," said Bhushan.
The hearing in the matter is still undergoing.
On August 14, in its 108-page verdict, the top court had said: "The tweets which are based on the distorted facts, in our considered view, amount to committing criminal contempt.
"In the result, we hold alleged contemnor No.1 - Mr. Prashant Bhushan guilty of having committed criminal contempt of this Court".
The top court had, however, discharged the notice issued to Twitter Inc, California, USA in the contempt case after accepting its explanation that it is only an intermediary and does not have any control on what the users post on the platform.
It had said the company has also shown its bona fides immediately after the cognizance was taken by this Court as it has suspended both the tweets.
The top court had analysed the two tweets of Bhushan posted on the micro-blogging site on June 27 on the functioning of judiciary in past six years, and on July 22 with regard to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde.
"In our considered view, it cannot be said that the tweets can be said to be a fair criticism of the functioning of the judiciary, made bona fide in the public interest," it had said.
(With inputs from PTI and IANS)