'Remarks During Live-Streaming Have Far Reaching Effects; Be Cautious While Making Adverse Comments' : Supreme Court Advises Judges
The Supreme Court on Tuesday cautioned judges against passing adverse remarks in court, unless accompanied by a proper justification, in the right forum, and necessary to meet the ends of justice. A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and Ahsanuddin Amanullah was hearing the appeals filed by Karnataka ADGP Seemant Kumar Singh, former Bengaluru Urban Deputy Commissioner J Manjunath and...
The Supreme Court on Tuesday cautioned judges against passing adverse remarks in court, unless accompanied by a proper justification, in the right forum, and necessary to meet the ends of justice.
A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and Ahsanuddin Amanullah was hearing the appeals filed by Karnataka ADGP Seemant Kumar Singh, former Bengaluru Urban Deputy Commissioner J Manjunath and the Karnataka ACB against certain oral remarks made by High Court judge Justice HP Sandesh which created a sensation.
Before directing the remarks made by the Karnataka High Court against the appellants to be expunged, the apex court bench held:
“Remarks passed in court, due to the live broadcasting of court proceedings, now have ramifications that are far reaching, and as can be seen in the present case, can cause great injury to the reputation of the parties involved. In such a circumstance, it is essential for the courts to be extremely cautious while passing adverse remarks against the parties involved, and must do so with proper justification, in the right forum, and only if it is necessary to meet the ends of justice.”
This set of appeals had arisen out of bail hearing, in which Justice Sandesh had made certain adverse remarks against the appellants while hearing a bail application in a corruption case. The appellants were not parties in the bail application. While questioning why the ACB had not arrested the Deputy Urban Commissioner in the case, Justice Sandesh stated that he had received threats of transfer for passing strictures against the ACB. The proceedings were broadcast on the high court’s YouTube channel. The judge's sensational comments were widely reported in media. The common grievance of the appellants was that the wide publicity of these remarks caused injury to their reputations.
Refrain from making comments against third parties
Not only did the top court affirm the principle mandating a higher burden of caution in bail proceedings, but it also touched upon the applicability of this principle vis-à-vis parties that had no lis in the said proceedings. Judges, while hearing bail applications, were required to form only a prima facie case, unlike a full-blown criminal trial, the court reminded. The judgment authored by Justice Murari stated :
“When the evidence is not fully analysed, and a presumption of innocence is still operational in favour of the accused, the courts must then be extremely cautious in passing adverse remarks against the accused. This becomes especially important in cases where the party against whom the remarks are passed do not have a lis in the said proceedings, for such comments, especially if passed by constitutional courts, can cause great injury to the reputation of the parties at the receiving end of such remarks. This burden of caution on the courts has been held in a catena of judgments by this Court.”
In light of this, the judgment spoke about the evolving standards of acceptable judicial behaviour in light of the far-reaching consequences of the availability and adoption of modern technology. The Court acknowledged that a new age of accessibility and transparency has been ushered in the legal system in general, and the judicial system in particular, owing to the adoption of virtual hearings and live telecasting of open court proceedings. The apex court commended these changes in the judiciary for ensuring that the courts as redressal mechanisms become more accessible to the common man by lifting the limitations of physical infrastructure. However, this unprecedented transparency required judges to be more responsible with their words. While accepting the appellants’ prayer for the objectionable remarks to be expunged, he noted:
“The limitations of physical infrastructure, which has constrained the courts to a physical location, has often been cited as one of the main roadblocks in the path towards access to justice. This roadblock, however, has now been cleared due to the availability of technology and the adoption of the same. This never-before-seen transparency in the judicial system, while it brings with it great benefits, it also attaches with it a stricter standard of responsibility on judges while conducting such court proceedings.”
Apart from expunging the adverse remarks, the Supreme Court also set aside the order passed by the singe bench on July 7, 2022, which directed the CBI to produce the reports of investigation against Seemant Kumar Singh.
"..we are of the opinion that the actions of the High Court during the bail proceedings of a third party are manifestly arbitrary and unjust, and the High Court must have confined itself to the issues relevant to it for the purposes of deciding the bail of the Respondent No.1. A court of bail, especially in cases where the bail is sought for by a third party, is not a court that has all the relevant information to pass an order on the merits of an unconnected party, and such an order, if passed, has the potential to cause great harm to the said party without them being afforded an actual and meaningful opportunity to defend themselves", the Court observed.
Seemant Kumar Singh v. Mahesh PS & Ors. | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 6572 of 2022 and connected matters
Adverse Remarks During Hearings – Live Broadcast and Virtual Hearings – Essential for courts to be extremely cautious while passing adverse remarks against parties involved – Remarks may be passed only with proper justification, in the right forum, and if it is necessary to meet the ends of justice – Stricter standard of responsibility on judges while conducting such court proceedings due to advent of live broadcast and virtual hearings – Held, remarks liable to be expunged for having caused injury to the appellant’s reputation on account of being widely circulated by the media – Appeal allowed.