Prashant Bhushan contempt case: A timeline of events

Hyderabad: Prashant Bhushan, a public interest lawyer in the Supreme Court of India and a former member of the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, has been in news ever since the apex court pulled him up for his tweets (put him on trial for contempt), which finally ended on Monday (August 27) as he was finally sentenced. 

Bhushan who as a member of the IAC demanded and campaigned for the implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill, had in fact refused to apologise for his tweets. On Monday, a Supreme Court bench of three judges asked him to pay a fine of Rs.1 by September 15, if not he would be sent to jail for months and get barred from his practice for three years. The lawyer accepted the sentence and paid the fine of Rs.1 

Bhushan stood by his statements during his trial, which was held for over a month and stated that his statements or tweets were non-objectionable. This case is not about the sentence or his tweets, but it has more to do with our right to freedom of express, which is a fundamental right that is enshrined in the constitution. It has more to do about whether one can express and be critical about the apex court itself. So what was it all about? 

On August 14, the SC had found Bhushan guilty for putting out two tweets criticising the apex court and the Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde. The case was registered on July 9 and the first hearing in the matter was held on July 22. The case took 40 days to reach its conclusion from the date of its first hearing.

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Here is a timeline of how the case progressed:

June 27: Bhushan tweets about an “undeclared emergency” in the country and the role of the Supreme Court and last four chief justices of India (in it).

“When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction, and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs”, the tweet had alleged.

June 29: Bhushan tweeted about Chief Justice S. A. Bobde sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle in his hometown Nagpur during the coronavirus outbreak. “The CJI rides a Rs 50-lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] leader at Raj Bhavan, Nagpur, without wearing a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC on lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access justice!” Bhushan had alleged in his second tweet that had accompanied a picture of CJI Bobde, sitting on a stationary Harley Davidson motorcycle.

July 9: An advocate, Mehek Maheshwari, filed a petition before the SC seeking initiation of criminal contempt proceedings against Bhushan for his tweets. As per Section 15 of the Contempt of Courts Act and Rule 3 of Rules to Regulate Proceedings for Contempt of SC, the consent of the Attorney- General (A-G) or the Solicitor-General (S-G) is required before the apex court can hear a criminal contempt petition filed by an individual.

The court proceeded on its own motion based on the filled petition.

July 22:  SC initiates contempt proceedings against Bhushan after taking note of a complaint filed by a lawyer in this regard; issues notice to him.

August 2: Bhushan refuses to apologise and in his response before the SC told the Apex court that his statements fell within the domain of free speech. This would be the first time in this case that Bhushan would refuse to apologise. Bhushan in his defence cited similar criticism of the SC made by its sitting and retired judges.

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August 5:  A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Arun Mishra and also comprising Justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, heard the case for a day and reserved its verdict.

August 14: SC holds Bhushan guilty of criminal contempt for his both tweets ‘against the judiciary’.

August 24: Bhushan submitted another statement before the apex court maintaining that he would not apologise. He said that the views expressed by him through his tweets represented his bona fide (good faith) beliefs and, as a result, an apology for expressing such beliefs would be insincere.

August 25: Attorney General K K Venugopal urges SC to let Bhushan off the hook.

– SC once again asks Bhushan to apologies. He refuses.

– SC reserves judgment on Bhushan’s sentencing.

 August 31: SC imposes fine of Re 1 on Bhushan, to be paid by September 15; if he fails to do so he would be sentenced to a 3-month-jail term and would be  debarment from practice in the apex court for 3 years.

Accepting the fine of Rs 1 imposed by the Supreme Court in the contempt case for his tweets against the judiciary, but had also indicated that he would file a review plea against the order.

“I reserve my right to file review, I propose to submit and pay fine as directed by the court,” said Bhushan in a press conference.

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