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New Delhi: The Supreme court on Monday reserved its verdict on the quantum of punishment to be awarded to advocate Prashant Bhushan in the suo motu contempt of court case for his two tweets criticizing the judiciary.

The top court on 14 August held Bhushan guilty of contempt for his tweets. The court had reserved its order on sentencing while granting time till 24 August to Bhushan to submit an unconditional apology. Bhushan on Monday refused to submit an unconditional apology, saying that an insincere apology would amount to contempt of his conscience.

Justice Arun Mishra, heading the apex court bench hearing Bhushan’s case asked attorney general K.K. Venugopal for his opinion on the quantum of punishment.

Venugopal submitted that Bhushan should be let off with a warning telling him to "please don't repeat this in future." He added that the court should not punish Bhushan if he expresses regret.

An unconvinced justice Mishra replied, “If a person says he didn't make a mistake and he won't apologize for it despite repeated opportunities, what will be the purpose of saying don't do it again. It is not about us or him. It is about the institution after all."

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, reminded justice Mishra that as a judge of the Calcutta High Court, he had let go of Mamata Banerjee after she said all judges were corrupt.

Dhavan while arguing to let go of this case submitted, "This institution must have criticism, & not just criticism but extreme criticism. Your shoulders are broad enough." He also added, “Scandalising the court is ambiguous. Criticism of court is inevitable. Consider the bona fide of the 'offender' and then consider the offence."

Dhavan also vehemently argued that if the court wants to bar him from practice, the court will have to hear him first. Also, if the court wants to impose a jail term, he said, “then my advice would be don't make Prashant Bhushan a martyr… Don't make Prashant Bhushan a martyr, as this controversy will continue depending on what punishment this court gives to him. And this controversy will end only if this court shows statesmanship."

On the pronouncement of the judgement, Dhavan urged the court that a judgement could ask Bhushan to be a "little restrained" in future when he criticizes.

Justice Mishra observed, “If someone with a standing of 30 years, like Prashant Bhushan, says something, people tend to believe him. They will think whatever he is saying is correct. Had it been someone else, it was easier to ignore but when Mr Bhushan says something, it has some effect."

The 14 August judgement was passed by a bench comprising justice Mishra, justice B.R. Gavai and justice Krishna Murari. Two tweets brought Bhushan, a critic of the government and a lawyer known for taking up liberal causes, under fire from the court. Bhushan's first tweet pertained to a picture of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde in which he is seen sitting on a high-end motorcycle. In the second tweet, Bhushan gave an opinion on the role of last four chief justices of India in the context of the state of affairs in the country.

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