Won’t demoralise HCs by asking them not to question, can’t restrain media: SC

New Delhi: Batting for “free flow of dialogue” in courts, the Supreme Court Monday said it would neither restrain the media from reporting oral observations made during proceedings in public interest, nor demoralise high courts – “vital pillars of democracy” – by asking them to refrain from raising questions.

The apex court said however that it’s order would take into account Election Commission’s submission that wanton charges levelled against it by the Madras High Court were unwarranted and would try to strike a balance between two Constitutional bodies.

It termed as too far-fetched the poll panel’s plea of restraining media from reporting remarks made in court proceedings.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah reserved its order on the EC appeal against the Madras High Court’s “critical” remarks holding it responsible for surge in COVID-19 cases in the country and fastening responsibility on its officials with the murder charge.

It assured the poll panel that the high court’s remarks were not meant to “run down” a Constitutional body but may have been made momentarily in the flow of discussions and that’s why it was not in the judicial order.

Election Commission is a seasoned constitutional body, entrusted with the responsibility to ensure free and fair election in the country. It should not be rattled by the observations made.

“We cannot say in Monday’s time the media will not report the discussions taking place in the court as it is also in public interest. The discussions that take place in courts are also important as is the order. Therefore, unfolding of the process in the court of law is in public interest,” the bench said.

It said that the media is a powerful watchdog of unfolding of the process in court of law and we cannot object to that reporting by media .

Justice Chandrachud said that judges ask questions to elicit response from lawyers and it does not mean that the court is against that person or body.

We have an Indian pattern of arguments in our courts. It’s not a monologue that one person will speak and then judges will speak. We have discussions here and there is an aspect of application of mind, the bench said.

Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the poll panel said that it is not objecting to the discussions and observations made by the High Courts but it has to be in the context of matter in hand and there should not be any off-the-cuff remarks.

The bench said: Some observations are made in larger public interest. Sometimes it is anguish and sometimes they are made to make a person do the work, he is required to do…some judges are reticent and some judges are verbose.

“We don’t want to demoralise our High Courts by asking them not to question as they are vital pillars of democracy. There should be free flow of dialogue. Things are often said in an open dialogue between bar and bench .

Justice Chandrachud said that what he is saying is not to belittle the poll panel and it should not be taken in that context.

Democracy survives when its institutions are strengthened. Dialogue only strengthens the body, he said, adding, We have to protect the judicial sanctity of the process. We have to ensure that judges are independent enough to have their views. We have to ensure that the media reports everything that happens in courts, so that judges conduct proceedings with dignity .

Dwivedi said that such a remark of murder charges against a Constitutional body was unwarranted and such conclusive remarks should not have been made without hearing the poll panel.

The bench said that the poll panel must understand that the media should be able to report everything to create a sense of accountability. Often, the dialogue in court is to create an umbrella of discussions. Normally, questions are asked from what is the subject matter of the case but sometimes dialogue goes beyond the envelope .

The top court noted that the poll panel in its appeal has called the EC a Constitutional body and said that high court being another such body should not make comments against it.

High Courts may not have powers under Article 142 of the Constitution but they have enough powers under Article 226. They are not district courts. High Courts are doing enormous work and we cannot reduce their sanctity. Not all people can come to the Supreme Court, the bench said.

It added, Power of judicial review has been given to the courts but it does not mean that we are taking over the powers of the Parliament, a sovereign body. It does not mean one organ is bigger than the other. We want each organ of the country to be independent.

The top court observed that nowadays there is electronic media and social media and they are running 24X7 and moreover there is a rush for breaking news and we know what we are saying now is being reported. To contain what we want to ask or say in court will not do justice to the judicial process .

The high court had, on April 26, castigated the EC for the surge in COVID-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic, holding it “singularly” responsible for the spread of the viral disease, called it the “the most irresponsible institution” and even said its officials may be booked under murder charges.

 

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