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Media Can't Make Suggestions Of Guilt Or Innocence Of A Person Or Credibility Of Witnesses: Kerala High Court

Hannah M Varghese
20 April 2022 4:23 AM GMT
Media Cant Make Suggestions Of Guilt Or Innocence Of A Person Or Credibility Of Witnesses: Kerala High Court
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The Court said that media trial results in denigration of the justice delivery system.

While temporarily gagging Reporter TV from publishing/broadcasting/telecasting any item concerning or relating to actor Dileep's brother in law, Suraj on the murder conspiracy case or the 2017 actor sexual assault case, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday commented on the detrimental effect media trial has on the legal system. Justice Mohammed Nias C.P remarked that media trials...

While temporarily gagging Reporter TV from publishing/broadcasting/telecasting any item concerning or relating to actor Dileep's brother in law, Suraj on the murder conspiracy case or the 2017 actor sexual assault case, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday commented on the detrimental effect media trial has on the legal system. 

Justice Mohammed Nias C.P remarked that media trials influence public opinion and that they could often lead to loss of faith in the justice delivery system.  

"Reports/telecast having the effect of prejudicing mankind against the parties and the court before the case is heard clearly interferes with the course of justice. A larger negative impact to a trial by media, a more subtle one which often goes unnoticed also needs a mention. In a trial by media which apart from adversely affecting the rights of an accused for a fair trial has immense power to influence public opinion. A perception is created for or against the accused in the mind of the laymen. So much so, that when a Judge passes a verdict which may be totally against the layman's perception, it causes him to distrust the integrity of the very legal system."

The Single Judge also pointed out that the time-tested system of arriving at the conclusion of guilt based ofn legal evidence may not always be familiar to a layman and that they are more comfortable with the version that the media has given them.

"This loss of faith in the justice delivery system is aggravated when the judge, not the judgment itself is subjected to media criticism. In such cases, trial by media results in denigration of the justice delivery system which without doubt, is the very foundation of the rule of law in any democratic setup."

The Court noted that while debates and discussions by the media are all permitted in a democratic government by rule of law, all of this is subject to one inviolable exception- during the course of trial or investigation, they cannot suggest/publish/telecast that A is guilty or that B is an unreliable witness.

"...suggestions of guilt of innocence or creditworthiness of witness etc. are beyond the permissible rights of the media."

It was also held that only courts have the constitutional authority to decide the guilt/innocence of a person or to decide on the content, quality or the width of any right available to any citizen/accused/suspect. Justice Nias opined that the media cannot usurp the jurisdiction of the courts.

The Court also recalled that rule of law, which is a basic feature of our Constitution, grants every accused a right to ensure that he is tried as per the procedure laid down by the criminal laws on the basis of the evidence collected and without the court trying the case being influenced by a parallel media trial or by comments and discussions by the media regarding matters which are sub judice.

Further, it was held that the publication of leaks from the investigation agencies and level allegations against individuals based on such leaks are not protected by the freedom of press under Article 19 (a). It was also ruled that the media cannot defend any telecast claiming that what was telecast was based on the prima facie findings of an investigating agency, or worse on the basis of suspicions of an investigating agency.

"Half-truths and misinformation cannot be the basis of publications or telecast. The media cannot be given the right to speculate on the outcome of the on going investigations or the court proceedings or criminal trials."

Moreover, as far as criminal trials are concerned, any reporting beyond the factual statement of what has transpired in a courtroom can be curbed in a given case.

Though the media performs the vital public function of being the communicator and the link between the courts of law and the people, its rights are also regulated and the fundamental right of speech and expression cannot be allowed to trample upon the rights available to the other citizens/accused/suspect, it was held. 

Case Title: T.N. Suraj v. State of Kerala & Ors.

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 186

Click Here To Read/Download The Order

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