Bombay HC Strikes Down Gag Order on Sohrabuddin Case

The judge minced no words in holding that the special CBI court overreached its powers in issuing the order.

3 min read
Kausar Bi and Sohrabuddin Sheikh.

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday quashed and set aside the trial court's order, prohibiting journalists from reporting on or publishing the proceedings of the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case trial.

Justice Revati Mohite-Dere minced no words in holding that the special CBI Court overreached its powers in issuing the order.

She agreed with the petitioners – a group of court reporters and city-based Union of Journalists – that the Criminal Procedure Code provided only for the high courts and the apex court to issue such ban orders.

Such an order could be issued only in rare cases, and for a limited period of time, the court said.

Justice Mohite-Dere said mere apprehension of sensationalism by the accused was not a sufficient ground for issuing such gag orders.

On 29 November 2017, the special CBI Court had barred journalists from reporting or publishing the proceedings of the ongoing trial in the case.

The CBI Court said while journalists can attend the proceedings, they must not make what transpired public.

Justice Mohite-Dere held that such a ban was unjustified and it breached a journalist's constitutional right of freedom of expression.

The rights of the press are intrinsic with the constitutional right that guarantees freedom of expression. In reporting from an open trial, the press not only makes use of its own right, but serves the larger purpose of making such information available to the general public.
Revati Mohite-Dere, Judge

She also dismissed the objections to such reportage by the accused persons in the case, saying they had failed to prove to the court that there existed any legal provision for a trial court to prohibit the press from reporting.

PM Pressurising CBI to Not Probe Sohrabuddin Case: Congress

The Congress on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "pressurisng" the CBI to not carry out proper investigation into the alleged staged shootout case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, in which BJP President Amit Shah was discharged by a lower court in December 2014.

"Before coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi always questioned the impartiality of the CBI," Congress leader Ratanjit Pratap Narain Singh told media in New Delhi.

He said that in the last three and half years, the way in which the "CBI has been politically used and controlled by the Prime Minister's Office is visible to everyone in the country."

Hitting out at the investigative agency, Singh said, "It is unprecedented in the country's judicial history that the CBI has refused to file an appeal in a case involving a president of the ruling political party as an accused."

The Congress leader was referring to the Special CBI court decision of discharging the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President in the 2005 fake encounter case.

"And now the CBI is opposing a petition which challenges a politically motivated decision not to challenge a lower court order discharging Shah," he alleged.

"These two instances bring out the stark truth of direct interference of the Prime Minister using CBI as a tool to defeat the ends of justice," the Congress leader alleged.

The Congress leader said that in September 2012 the Supreme Court moved the trial to Mumbai and directed that the trial be heard by the same judge from start to finish.

"But when the BJP came to power in May 2014, within a month in contravention to the Supreme Court's orders, J T Utpat was transferred on 25 June 2014 through an administrative order.

He said that after Utpat was transferred, B.H. Loya came at his place and he died on 1 December 2014.

Questions has been raised against the ruling party’s President as three judges has been appointed in that case.
Ratanjit Pratap Narain Singh, Congress Leader

Firing salvos at Modi, Singh said, "If you don't have any fear then why aren't you allowing the case and investigation to proceed?"

"Why is the PM directing the CBI to not carry out proper investigation in the case? Why is he pressurising the CBI?" he questioned.

The Congress leader's remarks came a day after the CBI in Bombay High Court opposed a PIL filed by the Bombay Lawyers Association over a Special CBI court judgement of 30 December 2014 discharging Shah in the fake encounter case as "illegal, arbitrary and mala fide."

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