In a public interest litigation by Public Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) regarding fake encounters by police and the necessity of having certain guidelines before an accused is damned of serious charges, particularly in terror cases, by media publicity, the Supreme Court expressed its concern and asked “Can a parallel process of trial by media be permitted when it can trample upon fundamental rights of an accused and interfere with free and fair decision-making?”
The bench headed by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha, termed media-trial as “serious” and said that the Court may consider framing guidelines on the matter.
PUCL was represented by Prashant Bhushan and Sanjay Parikh while Senior advocate ShekharNaphade appeared for the Maharashtra government.
The Bench, also having Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman, said “It is a very serious matter…especially the media briefing by police and other investigating agencies. Nothing should be done to hamper investigations and secrecy of the probe. It requires certain checks since they all touch upon Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution”
The Court also asked if there are any guidelines by National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the matter. The Bench further expressed its view by saying “Can a parallel process of trial by media be allowed when a trial is already going on in court? We think it affects the entire trial process and rights of an accused. Media briefings by investigating officer during on-going investigations should not happen.”
The court also expressed its disapproval to parading of arrested persons by police before media, and also release of statements of accused made under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to the media.
Asking all the counsels involved in the matter, to bring forward necessary guidelines and also their suggestions regarding issue of framing of guidelines the Court also appointedGopal Sankaranarayanan as amicus curiae in the matter.
The question of power of police to brief media in criminal cases during the investigation and the trial was has also been raised in the Supreme Court before.
Live Law also covered The Code for Journalistic Ethics.