The Supreme Court on Thursday requested attorney general (AG) KK Venugopal to assist the court as Amicus Curiae in the 2009 criminal contempt of court case against lawyer Prashant Bhushan for his remarks to a magazine that past Chief Justices of India (CJIs) had been corrupt. The request was made after this was suggested by Bhushan’s lawyer.
Amicus Curiae, which literally translates as friend of the court, is a neutral lawyer appointed by the court to assist it in cases which require specific expertise.
Bhushan’s lawyer Rajiv Dhavan told the court on Thursday that AG Venugopal should be heard as the Amicus Curiae in the case considering the fact that it involves pertinent legal issues relating to whether or not allegations regarding conduct of a judge can be made in the public or not.
In a different contempt case concerning Bhushan, Venugopal, on August 25, told the court that several former SC judges have referred to corruption in the judiciary and asked the bench, which had already found Bhushan guilty of contempt in its August 14 judgement, to let him off with a warning. Earlier, on August 20, the AG mentioned a 1987 speech he delivered on the judiciary, where he referred to rumours of corruption and nepotism in the judiciary before the court in the same case, before he was cut short by the bench.
On Thursday, a three-judge bench headed by justice AM Khanwilkar asked the court registry to furnish a copy of the records of the case to the AG’s office and posted the case for further consideration in October.
The case against Bhushan has its genesis in an interview given by the activist lawyer to Tehelka magazine in which he claimed half of the previous 16 CJIs were corrupt. Senior advocate Harish Salve brought this statement to the attention of the court, based on which contempt action was initiated against Bhushan in November 2009.
The case was listed by the top court before a bench headed by justice Arun Mishra on July 24, 2020, more than eight years after it was last heard.
Bhushan refused to apologise for his statement, but offered an explanation to the court on his controversial remark. The apex court, on August 10, rejected Bhushan’s explanation and decided to proceed with the case and hear it in detail.
When the case was heard on August 17, the court said that certain larger legal issues need to be settled, including whether allegations of corruption against judges can be made by way of public statements and the procedure to be adopted when such allegations are raised against the conduct of a sitting judge.
On August 25, Bhushan’s counsel requested that the case should be placed before a Constitution bench since it involves substantial legal issues.
The three-judge bench, which also comprised justices BR Gavai and Krishna Murari could not, however, take the case to finality because justice Mishra retired from office on September 2.
The matter, thereafter, came to be listed before a new bench, which besides justice Khanwilkar also comprised justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna.
When the case came up before the new bench on Thursday, senior counsel Dhavan appeared on behalf of Bhushan and submitted that AG Venugopal had earlier expressed his willingness to assist the court.
The top court , on August 31, imposed a fine of Rs. 1 on Bhushan in the other contempt of court case initiated against him for tweets criticizing the Supreme Court and current CJI, SA Bobde. Bhushan refused to tender an apology in that case too despite opportunities offered by the court.