Prashant Bhushan refuses to apologise to SC on his 2009 statement of former CJIs being corrupt

After much discussion over the tone and tenor of statements to be issued by Bhushan and Tejpal, the former finally agreed to express regret and that he never meant to lower the prestige of the judiciary, especially the SC, while Tejpal tendered an...

NEW DELHI: Activist-advocate Prashant Bhushan refused to tender an apology to the Supreme Court on Tuesday for his 2009 statement that half of 16 former CJIs were corrupt, but expressed complete faith in the judiciary while regretting that his remarks, meant to attribute "lack of propriety" to them, were misunderstood as accusations of financial corruption.

"In my interview with Tehelka in 2009, I used the word corruption in a wide sense. 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 later said in a media statement.

During the video-conference hearing, the cameras went blank and a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari chose to hold a teleconference with senior advocates Rajeev Dhavan (for Bhushan), Kapil Sibal (for Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka magazine) and amicus curiae Harish Salve to find a solution to clashing issues — protection of free speech and not lowering the prestige & dignity of the judiciary.


After much discussion over the tone and tenor of statements to be issued by Bhushan and Tejpal, the former finally agreed to express regret and that he never meant to lower the prestige of the judiciary, especially the SC, while Tejpal tendered an apology.

The bench reserved its verdict on the 2009 contempt proceedings, which could have two outcomes — the SC can accept the regret/apology and close the proceedings or fix a date to begin contempt case trial against the duo.

Before the proceedings went off camera, the bench said, "We are for freedom of speech. But there is a thin line between freedom of speech and contempt of court. Can you (Dhavan) as an officer of the court solve this puzzle — save freedom of speech and save the grace & dignity of the judicial system? Can you suggest a way out of this rigmarole? The system does not curtail freedom of speech."
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After the hearing got over, Bhushan's office said, "In the hearing of the 2009 contempt matter against Prashant Bhushan, the bench, instead of an open court hearing, spoke to the counsels for the respondents, Dhavan and Sibal, over WhatsApp calls. The judges told the counsel that they wanted to put an end to the matter to protect the dignity of the court and of the judges. They, therefore, asked the parties to issue statements tendering their apologies. Bhushan refused to tender an apology."

Bhushan's statement, annexed to the release, said, "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."

"When Justice Mishra indicated that he may pass an order holding that any statement of corruption in the judiciary would amount to per se contempt, he was told by Dhavan that such a finding cannot be and should not be rendered without hearing the parties. The earlier discussion over WhatsApp was only regarding whether the proceedings could be dropped in the light of the statements. Therefore, Dhavan told the court [that] if the court wanted to render any finding on whether the interview amounted to contempt or not, they would have to hear the parties fully, on facts and law. The court thereafter reserved judgment."

For Tejpal, Sibal was more reconciliatory and said though the court could not give a finding of fact in the contempt proceedings without hearing the parties, allegations of corruption could not be made loosely. He said the court could accept the apology/regret and at the most, say that prima facie the statement could have amounted to contempt.
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