May 26, 2022

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Media Cannot Be Stopped From Reporting Oral Remarks of Judges: Supreme Court

media and law

The Supreme Court on Monday said that media cannot be stopped from reporting the oral observations made by the judges during the hearing of a case.

The Court observed that the discussions in the court are of public interest, and that the people are entitled to know how the judicial process is unfolding in the Court through the dialogue between the bar and the bench.

The Court also added that the reporting of the court discussions will bring more accountability for the judges and will foster citizens’ confidence in the judicial process.

A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah was hearing the petition filed by the Election Commission of India against the oral remarks made by Madras High Court that the ECI was “singularly responsible for COVID second wave” and that its officers “should probably be booked for murder”.

The bench took objection to the prayer made by the ECI to stop media from reporting oral remarks of judges, which are not part of the final order.

“We cannot say that the media cannot report the contents of the discussions in a court of law. Discussions in a court of law are of equal public interest, and I would put it in the same pedestal as the final order. Discussion in the court is a dialogue between bar and bench. The unfolding of the debate in the court of law is equally important and media has a duty to report. It’s not only our judgements that are significant for our citizens”, Justice DY Chandrachud observed.

“What is happening in the court is also of concern to the citizens..what is happening, whether there is application of mind, how it fosters justice, these are all of concern for the citizens”, Justice Chandrachud said.

“We wish that media should report fully what is happening in Court. It brings a sense of accountability. Media reporting would also show that we are dispensing our duties fully”, Justice Chandrachud said.

Justice Chandrachud said that the prayer made by the ECI to stop media from reporting oral observations was “far-fetched”.

Justice MR Shah supported Justice Chandrachud’s observations by saying that oral observations are also made in public interest. Justice Shah said that strong observations are made often out of anger or frustration, and sometimes can work as a “bitter pill”.

Justice Shah pointed out that following the sharp remarks of the Madras High Court, the ECI took steps to ensure that the COVID protocol was observed during the counting day.

“Your subsequent decisions after the remarks have improved the system. Look at what happened in counting. You take it in the right spirit.. as a bitter pill”, Justice Shah told Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, who was appearing for the Election Commission.

Justice Chandrachud said that the Supreme Court cannot say that the High Court judges should confine only to the written pleadings in case.

“We don’t want to demoralize our High Courts, which are doing tremendous work during the COVID…We cannot tell the Judges that confine yourself to pleadings. The HC Judges are doing tremendous work, burning the midnight oil, they are overwhelmed. They know what’s happening on the ground. It is bound to affect your psyche”, Justice Chandrachud observed.

Mr.Dwivedi submitted that the High Court remarks were unwarranted as it was hearing a case seeking security for a counting booth in Tamil Nadu. The High Court made the strong remarks without giving an opportunity to the ECI to explain the steps taken by it.

The bench agreed that the High Court’s “murder charges” remarks were quite strong but said that they might have been made out of anguish and frustration.

“Left to myself, I would not have made those remarks. I’m sure my brother Justice Shah also would not have made it”, Justice Chandrachud said.

The bench also agreed with Mr.Dwivedi that there should be balance and restraint while making observations. The bench reserved orders on the ECI application and said that it will pronounce the same on Thursday.

The bench said that it will formulate a balance order, dealing the matter in a way which preserves the sanctity of the High Courts as well.

A bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah was considering the special leave petition filed by Election Commission of India against the oral remarks of Madras High Court castigating the ECI for not stopping political rallies amid COVID19 pandemic.

The poll panel moved the urgent petition in the Supreme Court saying that people have started lodging FIRs against it for murder based on the oral remarks of the High Court. The ECI said that the “disparaging” oral remarks of the High Court, which were widely reported, damaged its reputation, although they were not part of the final order.

On April 30, Justice Chandrachud, during the hearing of the suo moto COVID case, had orally remarked that High Courts should avoid ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks which can be damaging to others.

Though the Election Commission had approached the Madras High Court against the oral remarks, the High Court refused to consider it on April 30, saying that the issue can wait till the larger issues relating to COVID management are addressed.