Advocate Prashant Bhushan on Saturday moved a plea filed in the Supreme Court seeking a right of appeal against conviction in the criminal contempt case, to be heard by a larger and a different bench.
The plea has been filed through his counsel Kamini Jaiswal. Bhushan has urged the apex court to issue directions declaring that a
person convicted for criminal contempt by it, including the petitoner, would have a right to an intra-court appeal to be heard by a larger and different bench.
The plea contended that the apex court should also issue directions to frame rules and guidelines providing for intra-court appeal against conviction in original criminal contempt cases, and the review petitions filed against orders of conviction by Supreme Court in original criminal contempt cases would be heard in open court by a different bench.
On August 31, the apex court had convicted Bhushan for two tweets against the judiciary and imposed a token of Rs 1 on him.
Citing inherent bias, the plea said contempt proceedings are one in which the injured party (Supreme Court) acts as the prosecutor, the witness and the judge, thereby raising fear of inherent bias.
“As a judge the power of the Supreme Court to convict and sentence the accused is unlimited and arbitrary…No one can be at once a suitor and a judge. Thus, there is a need for an intra-court appeal,” said the plea.
The plea contended that in such cases, 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. The plea also argued that it is extremely important to minimise such decisions since they not only cause great injustice to the alleged contemnor, but also bring disrepute to the court itself and are likely to be harshly judged by legal historians.
“That 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 Article 21. This has been affirmed in judgements of this Court,” said the plea.
Citing violation of Article 14, the plea contended that it is discriminatory that a person charged with similar criminal contempt of High Court has a right of appeal but a person charged with criminal contempt of Supreme Court has no appeal.