SC Hints At End To ‘Me­dia Trial’

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

New Delhi: Chief Jus­tice JS Khe­har ha­s­ex­pressed­con­cer­nover­the­me­dia trial of sus­pects in any case and hinted that the Supreme Court would drawthe­li­neon­how­much­po­lice­men can tell the me­dia dur­ing the pre-trial, in­ves­ti­ga­tion­stageas­re­portage­some­times un­der­mines free and fair trial.

The pro­posed guide­lines, in line with an ex­ist­ing cen­tral gov­ern­ment ad­vi­sory, will de­cide whether po­lice­men can pa­rade the ac­cused be­fore cam­eras, whether their iden­ti­ties can be re­vealed, etc. A bench, com­pris­ing CJI Khe­har and Jus­tice NV Ra­mana, agreed with a sug­ges­tion by am­i­cus cu­riae Gopal Shankarnarayan that there be some norms on po­lice brief­ings for the me- dia. “Rep­u­ta­tion of a per­son is very im­por­tant. Peo­ple may be ar­rested… If they are shown on elec­tronic me­dia, their rep­u­ta­tion is smeared for­ever, even though they may be ac­quit­ted later,” CJI Khe­har ob­served.

The court was deal­ing with a host of pe­ti­tions call­ing for guide­lines for the po­lice or in­ves­ti­gat­ing agen­cies brief­ing the me­dia about any on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The pe­ti­tions have been pend­ing since 1999.

In an­other case, a Con­sti­tu­tion bench had al­ready ruled that if any ac­cused faces a smear cam­paign dur­ing trial which may prej­u­dice his case, he would be free to ap­proach the trial court to post­pone the re­port­ing of an or­der.

Ac­tivist lawyer Prashant Bhushan ar­gued that re­leas­ing the names of sus­pects even be­fore the FIR was filed in some cases in press state­ments re­sults in pre-judg­ing a case. Often the rep­u­ta­tion of to­tally in­no­cent peo­ple are smeared be­yond re­pair.

“This not only causes se­ri­ous harm to the rep­u­ta­tion of the per­son but also af­fects the trial,” he said. The CJI noted with con­cern the fact that the is­sue had been pend­ing be­fore court since April 1, 2010, with­out any fresh de­vel­op­ments. “There is no or­der since then. This is Tr­is­hanku. Let’s bring it down to earth,” he ob­served.

The CJI directed the cen­tral govern- ment and all in­ter­ested parties such as state gov­ern­ments, the Press Coun­cil of In­dia, NHRC etc to sub­mit their views through a ques­tion­naire pre­pared by the am­i­cus cu­riae which would de­cide whether an ac­cused can be pa­raded be­fore the me­dia, whether his iden­tity can be re­vealed or the ev­i­dence against him played out live on TV, etc.

The court will base its or­ders on the re­sponses of all stake­hold­ers and re­vise the ex­ist­ing cen­tral gov­ern­ment ad­vi­sory to in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies on the dos and don’ts of me­dia brief­ings by po­lice. This would de­cide how much they can re­veal to the press with­out com­pro­mis­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of up­set­ting the fun­da­men­tal premise of our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem –– that a per­son is in­no­cent un­til proven guilty.


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