Advocate Prashant Bhushan’s statement in reply to supreme court in contempt of court case

Advocate Prashant Bhushan’s statement in reply to supreme court in contempt of court case

“Talking to the Bar about dissent is like taking coal to Newcastle. The Bar room is the most unholy place where nothing is sacred, no reputation so unimpeachable that it cannot be blown to smithereens, no personality so towering that it cannot be brought crashing down, no character so pure that it cannot be torn to shreds, no idea so holy, that it cannot be disagreed with. That is the essence of dissent. If anything, the Bar is a shrine for dissent.” 

(The following was an extract from a speech delivered by former CJI, Deepak Gupta, at an event organized by the supreme court bar association on 24th February 2020.)

The Ideal of “Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship” is enshrined in the preamble of our constitution. “The right to disagree, the right to dissent and the right to take another point of view would inhere inherently in each and every citizen of the country”.

There can be no democracy without dissent, former justice D.Y Chandrachud, very concisely put the matter when he said that, “The blanket labeling of dissent as anti-national or anti-democratic strikes at the heart of our commitment to protect constitutional values and the promotion of deliberative democracy”.

Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, was recently found guilty in contempt of court over his tweets. “CJI rides a 50 Lakh motorcycle belonging to a BJP leader at Raj Bhavan Nagpur, without a mask or helmet, at a time when he keeps the SC in Lockdown mode denying citizens their fundamental right to access Justice”.  

In the court proceedings against him, Justice Amit Mishra asked him to issue an unconditional apology but the senior advocate’s statement in reply will directly pierce through any individual’s heart who holds the ideals of freedom of speech, democracy, and dissent in high regards. Below is the full text of his statement. 

“It is with deep regret that I read the order of this Hon’ble Court dated 20th of August. At the hearing the court asked me to take 2-3 days to reconsider the statement I made in the court. However, the order subsequently states: “We have given time to the contemnor to submit unconditional apology, if he so desires.”

I have never stood on ceremony when it comes to offering an apology for any mistake or wrongdoing on my part. It has been a privilege for me to have served this institution and bring several important public interest causes before it. I live with the realization that I have received from this institution much more than I have had the opportunity to give it. I cannot but have the highest regard for the institution of the Supreme Court.

I believe that the Supreme Court is the last bastion of hope for the protection of fundamental rights, the watchdog institutions and indeed for constitutional democracy itself. It has rightly been called the most powerful court in the democratic world, and often an exemplar for courts across the globe. Today in these troubling times, the hopes of the people of India vest in this Court to ensure the rule of law and the Constitution and not an untrammeled rule of the executive.

My tweets represented this bonafide belief that I continue to hold. Public expression of these beliefs was I believe, in line with my higher obligations as a citizen and a loyal officer of this court. Therefore, an apology for expression of these beliefs, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere. An apology cannot be a mere incantation and any apology has to, as the court has itself put it, be sincerely made. This is especially so when I have made the statements bonafide and pleaded truths with full details, which have not been dealt with by the Court. If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem.

This casts a duty, especially for an officer of this court like myself, to speak up, when I believe there is a deviation from its sterling record. Therefore I expressed myself in good faith, not to malign the Supreme Court or any particular Chief Justice, but to offer constructive criticism so that the court can arrest any drift away from its long-standing role as a guardian of the Constitution and custodian of peoples’ rights.

My tweets represented this bonafide belief that I continue to hold. Public expression of these beliefs was I believe, in line with my higher obligations as a citizen and a loyal officer of this court. Therefore, an apology for expression of these beliefs, conditional or unconditional, would be insincere. An apology cannot be a mere incantation and any apology has to, as the court has itself put it, be sincerely made. This is especially so when I have made the statements bonafide and pleaded truths with full details, which have not been dealt with by the Court. If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem.”

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