Advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was recently convicted for contempt of Supreme Court, has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a legal remedy of intra-court appeal to those convicted in original contempt cases in the Supreme Court. The plea also prayed for a provision of hearing in front of a different, larger bench in such matters.
Cases heard directly by the Supreme Court in the first instance constitute original criminal contempt cases. As per the current law, in such cases of contempt, a convict is left with no option for appeal against the apex court’s order as the Supreme Court is the highest court in the country.
The instant plea, filed through lawyer Kamini Jaiswal contends that there shall be procedural changes to reduce the chances of “arbitrary, vengeful and high-handed decisions” in criminal contempt cases saying that in such cases the top court is the aggrieved party, the “prosecutor, the witness and the judge” and hence they raise fear of inherent bias.
The plea further states,
“The right to appeal against conviction in original criminal cases is a substantive right under Article 21 and flows from principles of natural justice. The absence of such a right thus violates (right to life under) Article 21,” the plea stated.
The petition mentions that criminal contempt of court also involves having an effect on the contemnor’s liberty and as such, it is pertinent that such guidelines be formulated.
“…considering the fact that there is inherent unavoidable conflict of interest involved, and the fact that liberty of the alleged contemnor is at stake, it is of utmost importance that certain basic safeguards are designed which would reduce (though not obviate) chances of arbitrary, vengeful and high handed decisions”
On the need to have different bench to hear such appeals, the petition avers that the Contempt of Courts Act provides Truth as a defence and it is likely that the truth which is rejected by one Bench may be accepted by another when the whole matter is re-examined.
“while the court of first instance may not accept the “truth” as alleged by the accused in a criminal contempt case, it may be accepted as factually correct by a larger or different bench. In a situation where there is no right of appeal, the right of having a fact determined as truth is lost”
The petition by Prashant Bhushan also gives regard to the provisions of Article 14 which mandates equal treatment. It was stated that a person convicted of a similar offence by a High Court has, at his disposal, a right to appeal whereas this right remains absent for a person held guilty by the Supreme Court in first instance.
Prashant Bhushan was recently convicted for contempt of court by the Supreme Court for his two tweets criticising the judiciary. He had denied tendering an apology for his statements and had received a fine of Re. 1 in the last hearing.