- Prashant Bhushan has refused to apologise for his tweets
- His lawyer argued that an apology cannot be coerced
- Supreme Court has reserved its verdict in this case
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 said today, assisting the top court. After a gripping back-and-forth in the courtroom and an emotional statement by outgoing judge Arun Mishra, the court reserved its judgment.
"If you are hurting someone, then what is wrong in apologizing," Justice Arun Mishra said. "For how long the system will suffer all this? I am retiring in a few days. Will it be okay if you or others start attacking me? You should apply balm if you have caused hurt."
Justice Mishra was responding to arguments by Prashant Bhushan's lawyer Rajeev Dhavan and Attorney General KK Venugopal.
Prashant Bhushan, held guilty of contempt, refused to retract or apologise for his tweets after the court's three-day window ended on Monday. In a 100-page statement, 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.
The top court had sought an unconditional apology and had asked the 63-year-old to "reconsider" his statement. Today, the court asked Mr Bhushan to consider withdrawing the statement.
Mr Bhushan's lawyer Rajeev Dhavan said: "This institution must take criticism, and not just criticism but extreme criticism. Your shoulders are broad enough."
Mr Dhavan also argued that an apology cannot be coerced.
According to him, Mr Bhushan could be forgiven with a message, not even a reprimand or warning. "Such reprimand or bald warning is too broad and shouldn't be done. One cannot be silenced forever. A message that he should be little restrained in future should be enough."
When the court asked what should be Mr Bhushan's punishment, the lawyer said: "Don't make him a martyr, this controversy will continue depending on what punishment this court gives to him. And this controversy will end only if this court shows statesmanship."
The Supreme Court said it had expected a different statement from Mr Bhushan. "It was painful to read his reply in justification of his tweets. It was absolutely improper. This is not the way a senior lawyer like Prashant Bhushan with over 30 years of experience should behave. And it is not just him, this has become very common now," said the court.
The Attorney General said several sitting and retired judges had commented on corruption in the higher judiciary.
Justice Mishra said: "But he doesn't think whatever he did was wrong. He did not submit an apology."
When the Attorney General requested the court not to consider Mr Bhushan's statement, 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."
The judge remarked that when someone like Mr Bhushan said something, "it has some effect".
"You have to differentiate somewhere. Fair criticism is not a problem, it is for the benefit of the institution... If we are going to destroy each other, who will have faith in this institution? You have to be tolerant, see what the court is doing and why. Don't just attack. Judges can't go to press to defend themselves or explain," Justice Mishra said.