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Balancing freedom and justice: Delhi HC

By Bhavini Srivastava

The Delhi High Court (HC) has issued a public notice seeking to elicit suggestions and opinions from the public at large on the freedom to report court proceedings of Delhi High Court and lower courts in Delhi. The intention is to formulate guidelines for accreditation of media personnel reporting court matters in Delhi so that instances of media trial are curbed. The questionnaire seeks to strike the correct balance between freedom of press and administration of justice.

The questionnaire: Composition of committee

This notice contains a questionnaire of 13 questions, which is to be answered and submitted within 21 days to a seven-member committee formed by Acting Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, Gita Mittal. It may also be posted to Reetesh Singh, the Joint Registrar. "The committee will explore the ideal balance between the freedom of the press and the administration of justice, which are both key constitutional values," the Delhi High Court notice said. The committee was constituted in June 2017 to discuss the subject - 'Media Reporting in Courts - Balancing Free Press, Fair Trial and Integrity of Judicial Proceedings' . It comprises Justice (retd) Ruma Pal who is also the Chairperson, Justice Manmohan of Delhi High Court, retired Justice G Raghavan (director of National Judicial Academy), retired IAS officer SC Panda, Arghya Sengupta (research director of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy), Dayan Krishan and advocate Bharat Chugh.

The listed questions

The answers may be given anonymously. Some of the questions in the questionnaire are-Should accreditation be mandatory to report pending court proceedings and for what kind of reporting should accreditation be required?What qualification must be met for accreditation? What should be the duration of accreditation? Should real-time reporting (e.g. live tweeting) of court proceedings be permitted? Who should be allowed to carry electronic devices in Court and should accreditation allow the carrying of phone/electronic communication device to the Court? Should live text messages/online reporting from Court be allowed? Should reporting of oral observation by the judge be allowed?

The need for assimilation of opinion

It must be noted that after Delhi, the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court has followed suit and has restricted entry of reporters in court premises. Bombay HC Chief Justice Manjula Chellur said that journalists would not be allowed sit in the enclosure marked for "non-lawyers", without passing an official order. It is imperative that media trial is uprooted, given that it corrodes the sagacity of the impartial judge since it propagates populist views and spreads unfair bias. It was observed in a note that media reports "exhibited a disproportionate influence on public opinion ", sensationalized news and selectively report court matters without reference to context.

The Court neither intends to exceed its powers nor curtail free speech. The note also clarifies that "this exercise is not one to regulate or control the media. On the contrary, it is a participatory endeavour by which certain principles can be evolved which ought to guide media organisations in their coverage of court proceedings and cases." Media persons often resort to live-reporting of court proceedings without understanding the wide reverberations it has on the public. Even though proceedings take place in an open court which can be visited by anyone, journalists being wrongly motivated by competition to report the matter first, often fail to gauge the sensitivity of matters sub judice. Misreporting or publishing, despite court's restriction, of highly sensitive court cases, affecting peace and security can cause chaos and violence of an uncontrollable proportion. It is due to this that the High Court has come forth with a solution to this festering problem of media persons reporting court cases.


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