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Free Speech Not A License For Persons With Half-Baked Facts Or Little Knowledge About Judiciary To Abuse Courts: Kerala HC

Hannah M Varghese
7 Feb 2022 10:19 AM GMT
Free Speech Not A License For Persons With Half-Baked Facts Or Little Knowledge About Judiciary To Abuse Courts: Kerala HC
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The Kerala High Court on Monday expressed concerns at the public commentary in media and social media by "persons armed with half baked facts with little or no knowledge of how the judiciary functions" about ongoing cases.In the order granting anticipatory bail to actor Dileep and other accused in the case related to alleged criminal conspiracy to kill the investigating officers in the 2017...

The Kerala High Court on Monday expressed concerns at the public commentary in media and social media by "persons armed with half baked facts with little or no knowledge of how the judiciary functions" about ongoing cases.

In the order granting anticipatory bail to actor Dileep and other accused in the case related to alleged criminal conspiracy to kill the investigating officers in the 2017 actor sexual assault case, Justice Gopinath P. spoke of the media attention this case had garnered. The judge added that freedom of speech and expression was not a license granted to individuals equipped with little knowledge of the judicial functions to disrupt the justice delivery system:

"This case has generated a lot of media attention. Mainstream television media and social media have commented upon the way this court went upon its business in handling this case. Observations made in Court during the course of hearing have been dissected and made subject matter of intense discussion. The existence of a vibrant, independent and free press is no doubt essential to democracy. The constitutional Courts in this country have been zealous to protect the freedom of speech and expression but this cannot be a license for persons armed with half baked facts with little or no knowledge of how the judiciary functions and little or no knowledge of the fundamental legal principles that govern it, abuse the justice delivery system."

The Judge also quoted Lord Mansfield from the trial of the radical John Wilkes (in 1770):

"I will not do that which my conscience tells me is wrong, upon this occasion, to gain the huzzas of thousands, or the daily praise of all the papers which come from the press. I will not avoid doing what I think is right; though it should draw on me the whole artillery of libels; all that falsehood and malice can invent, or the credulity of a deluded populace can swallow."

Further, the Court also added that its sentiments were echoed in the words of Judge Hiller B. Zobel at the trial of the Nanny Louise Woodward  in 1998:

"Elected officials may consider popular urging and sway to public opinion polls, Judges must follow their oaths and do their duty, heedless of editorials, letters, telegrams, picketers, threats, petitions, panellists and talk shows. In this country, we do not administer justice by plebiscite."

As such, Justice Gopinath, while allowing the petition, said in his judgment: 

"Both the above quotations extracted from the book 'Literature of the Law' echo, in no uncertain terms, the sentiments of this Court. I leave it at that."

It is pertinent to note that during the hearing of the case which went on for two weeks, the virtual court was attended by 300 participants, which is the maximum limit of participants the virtual platform permits in a meeting. 

On several occasions, Senior Advocate B. Raman Pillai had also complained about the excessive media coverage the case was getting, alleging that the primary intention of the prosecution was to crucify the actor with media trial. 

Notably, the accused have also filed a separate petition before the Court seeking to impose the media gag order issued by the trial court in the 2017 sexual assault case.

In the bail order, the High Court made a prima facie observation that there was no material to suggest that Dileep and other accused had committed criminal conspiracy to attack the investigating officers.

Case Title: P. Gopalakrishnan alias Dileep & Ors v. State of Kerala & Anr.

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 64

Click Here To Read/Download The Judgment


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