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Jurists call for fair criticism of courts, judgments

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ON MEDIA RIGHTS: Jurist N.R. Madhava Menon addressing the Narendran memorial seminar on `criticising courts and court verdicts' in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday. - Photo: S. Gopakumar
ON MEDIA RIGHTS: Jurist N.R. Madhava Menon addressing the Narendran memorial seminar on `criticising courts and court verdicts' in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday. - Photo: S. Gopakumar

Special Correspondent

`But it should be within the tenets of decency and morality'

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Fair criticism of courts and verdicts in good faith is imperative to sustain democracy, participants of a seminar on `criticising courts and verdicts' said here on Monday.

Eminent jurist N.R. Madhava Menon, who inaugurated the seminar organised in memory of journalist N. Narendran, said that freedom of speech and expression of media is sacrosanct and it gets developed only on challenging what it feels is wrong. Courts generally exercise a restraint in invoking contempt of court against media criticism.

But it should be within the tenets of decency and morality and should not affect national sovereignty and integrity. Instead of scandalising the judiciary, the prime motive should be educate the public and improve the institution. Criticism with dishonest motives is not permissible.

Mr. Menon said repeating allegations levelled in a first information report is not fair as it may amount to crucifying an innocent accused awaiting judgement. Crime reporting has its own responsibilities and it should be according to the code of ethics laid by the Press Council of India. Trial by press often affects administration of justice. He called for a judicious use of media which is a very powerful weapon.

According to former Legislature Secretary N.K. Jayakumar, journalists are well within their rights to criticise courts and verdicts in public interest.

Verdicts often reflect the social outlook, likes and dislikes of the judges. If one feels that a verdict is not for social good, it can be criticised. Verdicts that affect the society at large will be discussed. When courts decide on laws framed by the Assembly and Parliament, it will spark of discussions, he said.

Mr. Jayakumar said the Contempt of Court Act has become outdated. It was framed by the British to implement verdicts. Now the nature of issues being handled by the courts has also changed and it took 56 years to amend the Act. Now courts and verdicts can be criticised provided it is justified by truth. Media should ideally stay within the limits, but certain violations are crucial for democracy, he said.

Noted lawyer Cherunniyoor Sasidharan Nair called for trenchant criticism of courts and verdicts in public interest.

Fair criticism of verdicts that affect the public at large is proof of the responsiveness of the society. He cited an instance of the High Court lawyers protesting against certain practices which they felt were unhealthy. Both Mr. Jayakumar and Mr. Sasidharan Nair cited the recent High Court verdict on the self-financing colleges issue as a case in point.

The issue whether the court can pass a verdict against a law passed by the Assembly is debatable, they said.

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