Taking a serious view of ‘media trial' in high-profile and sensitive cases, the Supreme Court on Monday cautioned the print and electronic media to ensure that there was no interference in the pending investigation/trial of the case while reporting it.
A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Swatanter Kumar said: “We would certainly caution all modes of media to extend their cooperation to ensure fair investigation, trial, defence of the accused and non-interference in the administration of justice in matters sub judice.”
Writing the 229-page judgment in the Jessica Lal case, Justice Sathasivam said: “The freedom of speech protected under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution has to be carefully and cautiously used, so as to avoid interference in the administration of justice and leading to undesirable results in matters sub judice.”
The Bench said: “Presumption of innocence of an accused is a legal presumption and should not be destroyed at the very threshold through the process of media trial and that too when the investigation is pending. In that event, it will be opposed to the very basic rule of law and would impinge upon the protection granted to an accused under Article 21.” The Bench said: “It is essential for the maintenance of the dignity of courts and is one of the cardinal principles of rule of law in a free democratic country that criticism or even reporting, particularly in sub judice matters, must be subjected to checks and balances so as not to interfere with the administration of justice.”
In the present case, “various articles in the print medium had appeared even during the pendency of the matter before the [Delhi] High Court which again gave rise to unnecessary controversies and apparently, had an effect of interfering with the administration of criminal justice.”
The Bench said: “Every effort should be made by the print and electronic media to ensure that the distinction between trial by media and informative media should always be maintained. Trial by media should be avoided particularly, at a stage when the suspect is entitled to the constitutional protections. Invasion of his rights is bound to be held impermissible.”
Referring to the High Court's criticism of the trial court, which acquitted the prime accused, Manu Sharma, the Bench said: “The respect of the judiciary and for the judiciary is of paramount consideration. Every possible effort should be made and precaution taken which will help in preservation of the public faith and individual dignity. A judicial consensus would require that the judgment should be set aside or affirmed as the case may be but preferably without offering any undesirable comments, disparaging remarks or indications which would impinge upon the dignity and respect of judicial system, actus curiae neminem gravabit.”