SC Hints At End To ‘Media Trial’
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.