New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday framed questions to be considered by it in a decade-old contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan.
One of the questions it will decide on is whether someone can go public with allegations of corruption against a judge, in the wake of an earlier top court verdict that requires such accusations to be probed by an internal committee.
The bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari, said it also will determine the circumstances in which such allegations can be treated as contempt and, if public statements have to be made, then in what circumstances.
Bhushan is facing contempt charges for his interview to Tehelka magazine in 2009 in which he was quoted as saying that half of the 16 chief justices of India were corrupt. This is separate from another contempt case in which Bhushan was, on 14 August, pronounced guilty by the top court for two of his tweets on Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde and former CJIs.
On Monday, after framing the larger questions in the 2009 case, the bench asked senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, Bhushan’s counsel, to come back on 24 August with his response.
Justice Mishra held the view that in accordance with an earlier verdict delivered by a bench led by the late CJI J.S. Verma, allegations against judges should not be made public at the first instance, but should be submitted before the court on its administrative side for an internal inquiry.
Dhavan agreed the questions framed were meaningful. He, however, felt they required consideration by a constitution bench and not the three-judge bench presently hearing the matter. According to him, Justice Verma’s judgment is bad in law and needs a relook.
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‘We are not on any individual’
During the hearing, the bench asked if someone could reach out to the media on a matter that is pending in court.
“The issue of whether such allegations can be made with respect to sub judice cases is also relevant for consideration,” Justice Mishra remarked. He was, however, quick to clarify that the questions were not in reference to a particular individual.
“We are not saying anything in the context of a particular individual. We are not on any individual. We wanted to put the issue to a quietus,” added Justice Mishra.
The court asked Dhavan to also address arguments on his view that the matter should be sent to a constitution bench.
Allegations don’t amount to contempt of court: Bhushan
The top court had on 10 August heard Bhushan at length in the matter. This was after the latter refused to tender an unconditional apology for his interview, instead issuing a public statement that read: “In my interview with 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.”
Bhushan also submitted a written statement in the court in which he said allegations of corruption made in public interest do not per se amount to contempt of court, and must be probed.
Dhavan told the court during the hearing that Bhushan is likely to file a review against the 14 August verdict holding him guilty of contempt for his tweets.
When Bhushan’s father and senior advocate Shanti Bhushan suggested keeping the matter for a hearing once the physical functioning of courts resumed, the bench said it wanted to hear the matter to decide the questions it has framed.
“We want to hear, because if the question is left then it will not be better for later on,” Justice Mishra told the lawyers.
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