Prashant Bhushan Refuses to Apologise for Seeking Judge’s Recusal in Contempt Plea by A-G
Attorney General KK Venugopal told a bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha that in view of Prashant Bhushan's statement, he would like to withdraw his contempt plea filed against the noted lawyer.
File photo of activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan (Image: PTI)
New Delhi: Activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan Thursday admitted in the Supreme Court to a "genuine mistake" in tweeting that the government had perhaps submitted to it fabricated documents of the high-powered selection panel on the appointment of interim CBI chief.
Bhushan refused however to tender "unconditional apology" in the apex court for seeking recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from hearing the contempt petition filed against him by Attorney General K K Venugopal.
The AG filed a contempt plea against Bhushan for his February 1 tweets in which he had said that the Centre appeared to have misled the top court and perhaps submitted fabricated minutes of the meeting of high-powered selection committee headed by the prime minister, in appointing M Nageswara Rao as interim CBI director.
During the hearing before a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha, Venugopal said he would like to withdraw his contempt plea since Bhushan has made a statement that it was a "genuine mistake".
He also reiterated that he does not want any punishment for Bhushan in the case and the court should deal with the larger issue of whether lawyers and litigants can criticise the court proceedings in a matter which is sub-judice to influence public opinion. Justice Mishra, who initially said he would not recuse from hearing the contempt plea, later heard detailed arguments on Bhushan's application in which he has sought his recusal.
Venugopal told the bench that he would like to withdraw his contempt plea and said, "He (Bhushan) is prepared to make a statement before this court that he had made a mistake. In view of what is given to me in writing, I will withdraw my petition. He (Bhushan) has said that he had done a genuine mistake".
To this, the bench said, "You (Venugopal) may or may not withdraw the petition against him (Bhushan) but you have raised a question and we will decide it".
When Venugopal again said that he will not press for his plea against Bhushan, the bench said: "It is for us to decide not you to decide. We will decide everything. We will consider all these aspects. We understand Mr AG (attorney general) that you are very fair. We will consider everything."
Senior lawyer Dushyant Dave, appearing for Bhushan, told the bench Bhushan is saying that he had made a mistake and even the Attorney General has said he will not press his contempt plea.
"I (Bhushan) will withdraw both my recusal application and recall application if the court will record the Attorney General's statement that he do not want to press his contempt petition," Dave told the bench.
At this juncture, the bench observed, "Everything has happened in the open court. We are repeatedly saying that we know our responsibility. Mr Dave, have faith in your judges."
While dictating the order, Justice Mishra asked Dave, "What about your recusal application?".
Dave said he will withdraw it but Justice Mishra observed that it should be done "with an unconditional apology".
"I will tender an unconditional apology on behalf of Mr Bhushan," Dave said.
However, the bench said it was of the view that Bhushan, who was sitting in the court, should come forward and himself tender an unconditional apology.
Bhushan stood up and said he has filed the recusal application in a bonafide manner and was not inclined to tender unconditional apology.
Taking note of his statement, the bench noted in its order, "We make it clear that there is no reason for recusal and we will deal with it".
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on April 3 and said it would also deal with the larger issue of whether a lawyer can made comments about court proceedings in a sub-judice matter.
"We are not against any individual in this case. We are dealing with a larger issue. It is troubling us. We are seeing that this is happening not only in one case but in a large number of cases," the bench said.
The court said the effect of filing the recusal application will also be considered on the next date of hearing.
Dave, while arguing on recusal application, said there was serious apprehension in Bhushan's mind that Justice Mishra should not hear the matter.
"I am not recusing. Dismissed. We will assign the reasons," Justice Mishra told Dave who said it was "not fair" as he has not been heard.
"Okay. Do not worry. We will hear you," the bench told Dave. Dave said Bhushan has also filed a separate application seeking recall of the contempt notice issued to him by the apex court in the matter.
"The issue (in recusal application) is that whether this bench should hear the matter. Why should your lordships insist on hearing this matter? We are not saying that you throw out this matter. I appeal to your lordships to look at it dispassionately. This application is bona fide," Dave said.
Venugopal opposed the recusal application and said, "I have serious apprehensions about bona fide of this application".
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, also opposed the recusal plea and said "Bhushan has a record of seeking recusal of judges".
"This (seeking recusal of judges) has become a pattern and this worries us as an institution," he said. Mehta told the bench that he would seek instructions on whether to press the contempt plea filed by the Centre against Bhushan in the wake of Attorney General's stand of withdrawing his separate contempt petition.
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