Prashant Bhushan moves SC: seeks right of intra-court appeal against conviction in contempt cases
Advocate Prashant Bhushan has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking declaration that a person convicted by the Supreme Court in a criminal contempt case has a right to an intra-court appeal, to be heard by a different and larger Bench.
In a suo moto contempt case, a three judges bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari had on August 14, held Mr. Bhushan guilty of contempt for his tweets regarding Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and functioning of the judiciary posted earlier this year.
While imposing a fine of Re.1, on August 31, the Court ordered that if Mr. Bhushan fails to pay the fine by September 15, he will be liable to a three-month imprisonment term and three years' debarment from legal practice.
The petition has been filed by Mr. Bhushan through Advocate Kamini Jaiswal. In addition to a direction for intra-court appeal in contempt matters decided by the SC, the petitioner has also prayed for directions in respect to framing of rules and guidelines providing for intra-court appeals.
Advocate Kamini Jaiswal has contended that right to appeal is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution of India and that the present petition has been filed seeking enforcement of the rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The petition states that right to appeal is also an absolute right under the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The plea added,
"As a judge the power of the Supreme Court to convict and sentence the accused is unlimited and arbitrary. Nemo potestesse simul actor et judex i.e. No one can be at once a suitor and a judge. Thus, there is a need for an intra-court appeal."
The petition further states that ‘truth’ is a defence under Section 13(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 and it is possible that a fact which has been rejected by one Bench as being untrue, may be regarded as being true by another bench. The plea contends,
"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."
Advocate Prashant Bhushan submitted,
"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."
The petition seeks:
Declaration of right to file intra-court appeal against conviction in original criminal contempt cases.
Directions in respect to framing of rules and guidelines providing for intra-court appeals.
Declaration that review petitions filed against orders of conviction by the Supreme Court in contempt cases be heard by a different bench and in open court.