'One of the worst rulings... ignores rights of victims' | delhi | Hindustan Times
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'One of the worst rulings... ignores rights of victims'

The Supreme Court's constitution bench verdict laying down constitutional principles for postponement of reporting of sub-judice matters has serious implications for both media and the administration of justice.

delhi Updated: Sep 12, 2012 01:02 IST
Satya Prakash

The Supreme Court's constitution bench verdict laying down constitutional principles for postponement of reporting of sub-judice matters has serious implications for both media and the administration of justice.

Coming at a time when right to freedom of speech and expression is already under attack from various quarters, the verdict further restricts the scope and ambit of the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, crucial for the survival of our democracy.

A cartoonist can be slapped with sedition charges and put behind bars. A professor can be arrested for circulating a cartoon. A farmer can be arrested for asking an uncomfortable question to a chief minister. And now journalists can be prevented from reporting pending cases.

The fact that the five-judge bench headed by CJI SH Kapadia did not lay down any binding guidelines for the media on reporting of pending cases is something all freedom-loving people would be glad about.

But the court has expanded the ambit of reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) by importing the concept of a "neutralising device" from American jurisprudence to strike a balance between the right to free and fair trial and the media's right to freedom of speech and expression. This amounts to virtually amending the Constitution.

Notwithstanding certain aberrations, media has mostly reported court proceedings fairly and has rightly discharged its duty of being an interface between the judiciary and the public.

Even if not absolute, the right to open court justice is a guarantee to a fair trial. It was due to an open court trial that the media exposed the collusion between the accused and the prosecution in the BMW hit-and-run case.

While talking about the right to fair trial in detail, the judgment ignores the rights of victims of crime who are often left to fend for themselves.

Senior counsel Dushyant Dave termed the judgment as "one of the worst in the history of the Supreme Court".

"It reflects complete lack of understanding of constitutional values and ethos. It only looks at the rights of the accused, completely forgetting the rights of the victims and their families... It totally ignores the hard ground realities - namely completely shoddy investigation, political interference in investigation, hostile witnesses and one of the lowest conviction rates in the world," he said.

What is even worse is that the verdict introduces backdoor censorship at the behest of accused persons.

Senior counsel Rajiv Dhavan said: "The idea of censorship through the court at the instance of any aggrieved party or accused is judicial censorship. This is a judgment whose verdict is waiting to be abused."