18 Jan 2021 11:00 AM GMT
In a significant pronouncement, the Bombay High Court on Monday held that media trial during criminal investigation interferes with administration of justice and hence amounts to 'contempt of court' as defined under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.The Court also held that media reports interfering with criminal investigation, before the initiation of trial, can amount to interference...
In a significant pronouncement, the Bombay High Court on Monday held that media trial during criminal investigation interferes with administration of justice and hence amounts to 'contempt of court' as defined under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.
The Court also held that media reports interfering with criminal investigation, before the initiation of trial, can amount to interference with administration of justice.
"...we hold that any act done or publication made which is presumed by the appropriate court (having power to punish for contempt) to cause prejudice to mankind and affect a fair investigation of crime as well as a fair trial of the accused, being essential steps for "administration of justice", could attract sub-clause (iii) of section 2(c) of the CoC Act depending upon the circumstances and be dealt with in accordance with law"
Trial by media/pre-judgment while a police investigation is in progress could lead to interference with/obstruction to "administration of justice", the Court said.
"The expression "administration of justice"in section 2(c)(iii) of the Contempt of Courts Act is sufficiently broad to include civil as well as criminal justice. The stage from which "administration of justice"commences may be prior to institution/initiation of judicial proceedings.Such administration admits of infinite variety and can take myriad forms", the judgment stated in paragraph 241.
The bench also rejected that argument that the defence of fair reporting under Section 3 should be available even for reports about investigation. This argument was made on the interpretation that 'judicial proceeding' as defined under Section 3 should cover proceedings from the stage of registration of FIR. The bench rejected the argument holding that Section 3 clearly defines what 'judicial proceedings' mean.
The Court issued a slew of directions to regulate media reporting of an ongoing criminal investigation. The order is passed in the backdrop of 'media trial' in the Sushant Singh Rajput Death case(Nilesh Navalakha and others v Union of India and others and connected cases).
What kind of reporting amounts to "media trial"? Bombay High Court gives guidelines as regards the types of reports which should be avoided while reporting about ongoing criminal investigation.Erring media houses liable for criminal contempt.#BombayHighCourt#MediaTrial pic.twitter.com/33jbC5OkHk— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) January 18, 2021
What kind of reporting amounts to "media trial"? Bombay High Court gives guidelines as regards the types of reports which should be avoided while reporting about ongoing criminal investigation.Erring media houses liable for criminal contempt.#BombayHighCourt#MediaTrial pic.twitter.com/33jbC5OkHk
A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipankar Dutta and Justice GS Kulkarni observed that media trial not only runs counter to the Program Code framed under the Cable TV Act but also interferes with the criminal investigation by police.
"Press/ media ought to avoid discussions, debates relating to criminal investigation and should confine only to informative reports in such matters in public interest.
Media should observe restraint in discussions about on going investigation so as not to prejudice the rights of the accused and witness" the High Court observed.
The Bench has also held that the Press Council of India guidelines on reporting shall be applicable to the electronic media as well.
Some of the guidelines pronounced by Bench in the open Court are as follows:
The judgment laid down a list of 'indicative but not exhaustive' list of reports which tend to cause prejudice to ongoing investigation.
The instances are as follows:-
a. In relation to death by suicide, depicting the deceased as one having a weak character or intruding in any manner on the privacy of the deceased;
b. That causes prejudice to an ongoing inquiry/investigation by:
(i) Referring to the character of the accused/victim and creating an atmosphere of prejudice for both;
(ii) Holding interviews with the victim, the witnesses and/or any of their family members and displaying it on screen;
(iii) Analyzing versions of witnesses, whose evidence could be vital at the stage of trial;
(iv) Publishing a confession allegedly made to a police officer by an accused and trying to make the public believe that the same is a piece of evidence which is admissible before a Court and there is no reason for the Court not to act upon it, without letting the public know the nitty-gritty of the Evidence Act, 1872;
(v) Printing photographs of an accused and thereby facilitating his identification;
(vi) Criticizing the investigative agency based on half-baked information without proper research;
(vii) Pronouncing on the merits of the case, including pre-judging the guilt or innocence qua an accused or an individual not yet wanted in a case, as the case may be;
(viii) Recreating/reconstructing a crime scene and depicting how the accused committed the crime;
(ix) Predicting the proposed/future course of action including steps that ought to be taken in a particular direction to complete the investigation; and
(x) Leaking sensitive and confidential information from materials collected by the investigating agency;
c. Acting in any manner so as to violate the provisions of the Programme Code as prescribed under section 5 of the Cable TV Network Act read with rule 6 of the CTVN Rules and thereby inviting contempt of court; and
d. Indulging in character assassination of any individual and thereby mar his reputation.
The Bombay High Court has also adopted the suggestion of Senior Advocate Arvind Datar regarding the appointment of a Public Information Officer by Police to give authentic information about criminal investigations.
The Bench has also clarified that its findings and observations in the judgment are not a reflection on the pending investigations and the concerned criminal court should decide the issues uninfluenced by the observations.
During the hearing of the matter over last six months, the High Court had expressed concerns over the practice of "media trial". It asked the media not to cross boundaries, and indicated that it will lay down guidelines.
"Think of a police officer. Can anyone be guaranteed that he will not be influenced? He may be following a particular track, which could be the right track. Media says no no this must be the track. He loses track and rounds up innocent," the Bench had remarked while highlighting the evil of media trial of an ongoing criminal investigation.
One of the PILs was filed by a group of eight former officers of the Mumbai police aggrieved by the 'slanderous' reports by TV channels against Mumbai police.
"Criticism of city police by TV media was unfair, in view of the material placed on record. The city police was at the very basic stage of probe", the High Court said.
The Court also held that the media coverage done by the Republic TV and Times Now against Mumbai police in the case pertaining to death of late actor Sushant Singh Rajput is prima facie contemptuous.
Some Reporting Of Republic TV & Times Now In SSR Case 'Prima Facie Contemptuous', Says Bombay High Court
Click here to read/download the judgment