NEW DELHIThe Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to refer to an appropriate bench the question of conflict between right to free speech and suo motu contempt powers of court in the 2009 case against activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, which was initiated for calling half of 16 former chief justices of India ‘corrupt’.

Justice Arun Mishra observed that senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, has raised many questions which would require lengthy hearing, and since there is paucity of time (Justice Mishra is retiring on 2 September), “let the matter be placed before CJI for assigning it to appropriate bench for hearing on 10 September”.

Dhavan argued that the question about whether any reference to corruption by judges would amount to contempt case or not should only be heard by a Constitution Bench, given the significance it has. He added that Attorney General KK Venogopal must also be heard in this matter.

Dhavan asserted, “These questions must be resolved for once and for all…The court’s free speech jurisprudence has expanded and its impact on contempt law must be considered.”

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Tarun Tejpal, former editor of Tehelka magazine, concurred with the submissions made by Dhavan and pleaded for that the issues raised require to be examined by a larger bench.

Justice Misha while referring the case to the Chief Justice observed that he is inclined to refer it to an appropriate bench but on the question of issuance of a notice to the Attorney General, the other bench hearing the case shall take a call.

The Apex court on 17 August had held that it shall examine the larger questions involved in contempt cases with respect to procedures and situations which lead to judicial corruption allegations.

The SC on 10 August had passed an order refusing to accept Bhushan’s “regret” and explanation for his statement made in the 2009 case and had ordered that the court shall examine whether the statement made by Bhushan prima facie amounts to contempt.

Bhushan is accused of making allegations against former Chief Justices of India SH Kapadia and KG Balakrishnan among other controversial remarks against the judiciary while giving an interview to Tehelka magazine.

The top court had taken suo motu cognizance of the case and a three judge bench on 10 November, 2010 had held that the petition was maintainable.

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