Maintaining that the right to open court trial was not absolute, the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that courts could restrain the media from reporting certain cases to avoid any prejudice to fair trial.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SH Kapadia said the Supreme Court and the high courts had the powers to prohibit temporarily media statements detrimental to the judicial process. This can be done on a petition filed by an aggrieved party, even a suspect in a criminal case.
The CJI, who read the judgment, said journalists needed to know their ‘lakshman rekha’ as reasonable restrictions on the reporting of court proceedings were required.
“Such orders of postponement of publicity shall be passed for a limited period and subject to the courts evaluating in each case the necessity to pass such orders …,” the bench said.
The court, however, refused to lay down guidelines for the media, saying, “There is no general law for courts to postpone publicity, either prior to adjudication or during adjudication, as it would depend on facts of each case.”
The ruling may lead to a large number of persons aggrieved by ‘media trial’ seeking postponement of reporting, making it difficult for newspersons to report.
The SC had set up the bench to examine the framing of guidelines on reporting sub-judice cases after it received complaints of breach of confidentiality during the hearing of a dispute between Sahara Group and SEBI.