Advocate-on-Record Prashant Bhushan's conviction for contempt of court has drawn angst, dismay and opposition from retired judges, notably R M Lodha, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph. Their support, along with that of "thousands of lawyers", was flaunted by Bhushan's counsel during the hearing on sentencing before a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari.
Bhushan stood firm and refused to apologise for his "false and malicious" tweets attempting to scandalise the Supreme Court. He argued that whatever he had 'contemptuously' said was required for protection of right to free speech and democracy.
During the proceedings to determine the quantum of sentence, he quoted Gandhi to tell the court that he would cheerfully accept the punishment. His supporters equated him with the Mahatma and Mandela.
Bhushan's ilk, who project themselves as zealous protectors of right to free speech, seldom stood up for other advocates punished severely by the SC for much lesser crimes. Those advocates did not have the "you know who I am" credentials to flaunt. They were minnows who got minced in the contempt of court shredder without the 'right to free speech' brigade shedding a tear.
In the last three years, advocate-on-record Mohit Chaudhary and lawyer Mathew Nedumpara were punished by the SC through suo motu contempt powers, which too has now been invoked against Bhushan. Pleadings of Chaudhary and Nedumpara and the punishments awarded to them by the SC did not stir a hair of Justices Lokur and Joseph, who were then sitting judges in the apex court.
In April 2017, Chaudhary had complained to a bench of then CJI J S Khehar and Justices D Y Chandrachud and Sanjay K Kaul that something fishy was going on in the SC Registry, which had listed a deleted matter. He also hinted at collusion between litigants and registry officials for 'bench hunting'. Compared to what Bhushan got convicted for and what he has been saying and reiterating for the last 15 years, Chaudhary's words were mere background music.
Hauled up for criminal contempt, Chaudhary tendered an apology. The bench was reluctant to accept it, finding hints of justification in what he had said. Chaudhary tendered an 'unconditional apology' again. When he was going through the nerve-wracking process, none of those reputed senior advocates who volunteered and signed resolutions for Bhushan made even a small noise for protection of right to free speech.
Those who sought mercy for Chaudhary included K K Venugopal, Salman Khurshid, R S Suri, Sidharth Luthra, Colin Gonsalves and Ajit Sinha. Forget support, the retired judges had no soothing word for him.
Two days after the Independence day celebrations in 2017, Justices Khehar, Chandrachud and Kaul said, "It was not an innocent act… but a well thought out decision to tread an unfortunate path which the existing Advocate-on-Record was unwilling to do… The allegations made against the RegistryRead More – Source