In a significant ruling, the Madhya Pradesh High Court on Monday (02nd November) held that production of victims and suspects before the media, as well as disclosure of personal information of the suspects to the media or display of their photographs in newspapers or on any digital platform is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
The Bench of Justice G.S. Ahluwalia further held that parading of suspects in general public is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Background of the Case
The ruling came in a matter wherein the Court was examining as to whether the State Govt. by issuing an executive instruction, can violate the privacy rights of the accused by publishing their uncovered faces in newspaper/ media or by parading them in Society?
Notably, a petition was filed by a man who alleged that his photographs in the custody of the police were made viral in the social media which has tarnished his image in society.
With regard to the query about the provision of law under which the photographs of an accused with the uncovered face can be published either in print media or electronic media or social sites, the state had submitted that a circular has been issued in the year 2014 regarding sharing of information with media and the uncovered faces of an accused can be shared with the media subject to various restrictions as mentioned in the circular itself.
The Circular of the year 2014
Clause 6 A of the circular dated 2-1-2014 issued by the Director-General of Police states that the suspect/accused should not be produced before the Media, but at the same time, in clause 8, liberty has been granted to produce the suspect as well as a victim before the media after the recording of the police statement.
Further, Clause 6B of the circular prohibits the display of photographs of an accused till the Test Identification Parade is conducted.
The plain reading of this clause indicates that this clause has been inserted by way of an exception; however, the Court noted that there is no law which permits the display of photographs of suspects.
The Court also observed that the Counsel for the State could not justify the rationale behind the liberty of producing the accused or victim before the media, as well as the display of photographs as mentioned in Clause 6B.
In this Context, the Court said,
"The circular dated 2-1-2014 itself is self-contradictory in nature. On one hand, it speaks about protecting the fundamental rights of an accused, but on the other hand, it gives liberty to the policemen to violate the fundamental rights of the suspects/accused."
Court's Vital Observations
While relying on the Apex Court's ruling in the Cases of Mehmood Nayyar Azam Vs. State of Chhatisgarh (2012) 8 SCC 1, K.S. Puttaswamy (Privacy 9 J.), K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar-5 J.), Prithipal Singh v. State of Punjab (2012) 1 SCC 10, Kishore Samrite v. State of U.P. (2013) 2 SCC 398, People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India, (1997) 1 SCC 301 etc, the Court came to the conclusion that privacy/reputation/dignity of a citizen of India, are an integral part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and cannot be infringed, unless and until a restriction is imposed by or under the authority of law and such restriction should be reasonable having nexus with the object sought to be achieved.
The Court remarked,
"The Privacy/ reputation/dignity of any person, including a hardcore criminal, cannot be violated, unless and until the reasonable restriction permits to do so. Even if a person is a hardcore criminal, but still his details/history sheet/surveillance has to be kept discreet and there is no question of posting the photographs of history sheeters even at police stations."
The Court also observed that Publishing of a photograph of a criminal or parading in the general public, even prior to his conviction, may defame him in the society, but it will never prove to be an element of deterrence.
Importantly, the Court opined,
"Tarnishing the reputation of a person, by the police, on the basis of its own investigation, amounts to prejudging the correctness of the allegations, which is unknown to Indian Law, and a person is presumed to be innocent, unless and until he is convicted. Thus, without there being any statutory provision putting reasonable restrictions, the police cannot violate the fundamental rights i.e., Privacy/dignity/reputation of a citizen of India, on the basis of an executive instruction issued by the Director-General of Police." (emphasis supplied)
The Court also observed,
"By producing the victims and suspects before the media, the police not only violates the fundamental rights of the suspect as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India but also encourages the media trials."
The Court also said that the police, instead of tapping its own back by disclosing the identity of the suspected persons in print, social or digital media, must concentrate on ensuring the timely appearance of the police witnesses before the Trial Court, so that the guilt of a person can be established.
The Court specifically held,
"Disclosure of the identity of the suspects in the newspapers or on the digital platforms, or parading the suspects in the general public, even prior to the adjudication of the allegations by the Court of law is certainly infringement of fundamental rights of a suspect."
Court's Final Order
The Court said,
"In exercise of suo motu power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, clause 6B, 8 and 11 of the circular dated 2-1-2014 issued by the Director-General of Police, State of Madhya Pradesh, so far as it relates to the production of victims and suspects before the media, as well as disclosure of personal information of the suspects to the media or display of their photographs in newspapers or on any digital platform are hereby quashed being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India."
Further, the Court said, parading of suspects in general public is also held to be violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Accordingly, the Director-General of Police, State of Madhya Pradesh, was directed to immediately issue necessary instructions to the Superintendent of Police of all the Districts that there shall not be any disclosure of the identity of the suspects and victims under any condition and further there shall not be any parading of suspects in general public under any circumstances.
"The publication of photographs of suspects whether with covered or uncovered faces shall also not be done under any circumstances. Any information to the media with regard to progress in the investigation shall be shared only after the same is duly approved by the Superintendent of Police of the concerning District", the Court said.
For any deviation, the Superintendent of Police of the concerning District shall be personally responsible, apart from other erring police officers.
Further, the State of Madhya Pradesh, has been directed to implement the Witness Protection Scheme in its letter and spirit.
Illegal Detention of the Petitioner
In this matter, the Petitioner was wrongly taken into custody as some other person with similar name and details was wanted in a criminal case.
To this, the Court said,
"If the petitioner was taken into custody under a mistaken identity, then there was no hurdle for the police to arrest him formally after following the requirements as directed by the Supreme Court in the case of D.K.Basu (1997)"
Thus, the Court said, in absence of any formal arrest, there was no occasion for the police, to publish the uncovered face of the petitioner in the newspaper or on social media, thereby projecting him as a criminal.
The Court further opined,
"Thus, it is clear that for no reasons, the petitioner was not only kept in illegal detention, but his reputation was tarnished and his privacy and dignity was violated".
A show cause notice was issued to the respondent no.3 and 5, to explain as to why they should not be punished for having committed Contempt of Court.
The Court also said,
"It is clear that violation of Fundamental Right of a person due to police misconduct, would not only give rise to a liability under Criminal, Tort and Public Law but pecuniary compensation can also be awarded"
Lastly, the Court said that the question of award of compensation shall be considered after deciding the question of involvement of the respondents no. 3 to 5 in the incident dated 25-7-2020.
Also, the Court said that the defence of the respondent no. 4 and 5 shall also be considered on the next date of hearing.