Elections 2021

Madras HC remarks against poll panel does not form part of judgement: Apex court

Our Legal Correspondent NEW DELHI | Updated on May 06, 2021

The method of the HC was harsh, inappropriate, but it did not direct culpability, says SC

Real-time reportage of court proceedings, including the oral exchanges in courtrooms between judges and lawyers, is part of the right to freedom of speech, the Supreme Court held in a judgment.

A Bench led by Justices D.Y. Chandrachud declined a plea made by the Election Commission of India to restrain the media from reporting oral remarks made by a Division Bench of the Madras High court. The HC judges had said that poll body officials should be charged with "murder" for allowing rallies and mass gatherings during the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. The judges had remarked that the EC was solely responsible for the Covid surge.

 

The Chief Election Commissioner had appealed to the apex court after the HC did not restrain the media from reporting the remarks nor made any to take back its remarks. The poll body said cases have already been filed against its officials for murder.

In the judgment, Justice Chandrachud said the case posed a delicate balancing of powers between the HC and the ECI, both constitutional authorities. The case also features the power of the media prominently to report judicial proceedings honestly and fairly in real-time.

The court said that except in child sexual abuse and marital issues, the phenomenon of free Press should extend to court proceedings.

Justice Chandrachud said how social media has seen court proceedings being reported live and as it happens. This real-time reportage is an extension of the concept of open court proceedings. The internet, including social media, have refashioned and revolutionised the way information is relayed. Constitutional authorities can do better than complaining and seeking fetters on media.

"This is a celebration of our constitutional ethos, which bolsters the judiciary... We cannot gag the reporting of proceedings... The manner in which judicial proceedings are conducted are unique to every Court. They allow the lawyers to develop arguments with creativity and judges to play the devil's advocate," Justice Chandrachud observed.

The court said oral observations made during the hearing do not bind the parties and do not form a part of the judgment. An exchange of views was intrinsic to the applicability of mind and the process of judging.

On the nature of the remarks made by the Madras HC, the apex court said "a degree of caution and circumspection would have allayed the problems in the present case. All said and done, this is in the past and does not constitute a part of the record".

Justice Chandrachud said the HCs have constantly been in touch with ground realities and have done great work.

Independence of Election Commission

On the other hand, the independence of the ECI is important for democracy to thrive.

The court said the remarks may have been a manifestation of anguish at the rising cases of Covid.

The method of the HC was harsh, inappropriate, but it did not direct culpability. But it should have ensured compliance of orders. The language both by the Bench and in judgement should be sensitive to constitutional values, the court said.

In the hearing, the ECI had complained that the HC should not have accused another constitutional authority of "murder".

In its petition in the apex court, the Commission had said the oral comments from the Madras HC would impact or lower the faith of the masses in the poll body and democratic process.

The Commission had said the comments were disparaging and derogatory.

The petition said the Bench of the HC should have allowed the ECI to place the entire factual position on record before making the allegations orally. Therefore, it amounted to the violation of the principles of natural justice.

Published on May 06, 2021

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