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Delhi Police's Press Note Publicizing Allegations Prejudices Right To Fair Trial, Argues Devanga Kalita As Delhi HC Reserves Order

Karan Tripathi
16 July 2020 10:53 AM GMT
Delhi Polices Press Note Publicizing Allegations Prejudices Right To Fair Trial, Argues Devanga Kalita As Delhi HC Reserves Order
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The Delhi High Court on Thursday reserved order in a plea moved by Pinjra Tod member Devangana Kalita demanding Delhi Police to withdraw its Press Note wherein Kalita has been alleged of 'actively hatching a conspiracy to cause riots in Delhi.'

The Single Bench of Justice Vibhu Bakhru reserved order by noting that the court is only concerned with the question as to whether the police was right in issuing this kind of a Press Note and whether the said release prejudiced Kalita's right to fair trial.

The court said:

'It is not disputed that the police have an equal right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a). However, that right can be restrained when the speech of the agency infringes the Article 21 of the accused by prejudicing her right to fair trial.'

Today, Mr Adit S Pujari, who was appearing for Kalita, submitted that there has to be checks and balances in place to regulate the extent to which the Delhi Police can respond to the statements made on social media.

'Delhi Police should not run a media campaign that prejudices the accused's right to fair trial'and presumption of innocence", Mr Pujari argued.

Mr Pujari further submitted that the impugned Press Note was released by the Delhi Police without even complying with its own guidelines on media policy as well as the Advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. He said:

'These guidelines, as well as the judgement of the Bombay High Court, clearly state that the police should not rush to the press with half baked information when the investigation is pending.'

Mr Pujari further quoted the MHA Advisory on Media Policy, 2010, which states that the police should take adequate precautions while sharing information with the press, and only authentic information should be shared after due verification and taking into consideration the accused's right to privacy.

'Delhi Police has not filed a chargesheet against Kalita, still they are saying conclusively that she hatched a conspiracy', Mr Pujari argued

While highlighting that the Delhi Police should be more careful in sharing information about the riots cases, Mr Pujari submitted that the police shouldn't even release the pith and substance of the allegations as an opinion. He said:

'When such statements are released by a statutory authority, a reasonable man hearing it would be affected', Mr Pujari argued.

The court responded to that claim by saying that the responsible journalists will not take such statements at face value and would question the police.

In the previous hearing, the Delhi Police had submitted that its Press Note was a proportional response to the allegations made by Pinjra Tod members on their Twitter account.

Appearing for the Delhi Police, Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi had submitted that the Press Note of the DCP, which the Petitioner has cited as derogatory and prejudicial to her right to fair trial, was a response to the allegations made by the Pinjra Tod members on their Twitter account.

Mr Lekhi had submitted that the Pinjra Tod members had accused the Delhi Police of 'massive Hindutva conspiracy' and 'political witch hunt to stifle dissent', which undermined the public faith in police and subsequently threatened social order.

Mr Lekhi had further submitted that since Kalita made no efforts to disassociate herself from the tweets made by Pinjra Tod, the prevailing context warranted a response from the police.

'The intention of the press note was not to conduct a media trial or to malign the reputation of the accused or to prejudice her case. The intention was to address the issue of damage caused to the public faith in police due to the allegations made by the Petitioner's association.' 

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