No Substance: SC on EC Plea to Gag Media, Not Report Oral Remarks

“We find no substance in prayer of EC to restrain media from reporting court proceedings,” the SC said.

3 min read
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Hearing an appeal by the Election Commission (EC) against the Madras High Court's observation, which had stated that the poll body was singularly responsible for the surge in COVID-19 cases and that EC officers should be booked for murder charges, the Supreme Court on Thursday, 6 May, dismissed the plea.

The apex court agreed that the remarks were harsh and the metaphor improper, but added that the high courts, despite facing rising cases of COVID-19 were doing tremendous work.

On the EC’s plea to stop the media from reporting oral remarks, the SC said that, “open access to court is the cornerstone of constitutional freedom,” and added that courts cannot stop media from reporting.

“We find no substance in prayer of Election Commission to restrain media from reporting court proceedings. It is essential to hold judiciary accountable,” Justice Chandrachud said on Thursday and dismissed the plea, according to Bar & Bench.

"Freedom of speech and expression extends to reporting proceedings in judicial institutions as well. The court’s works have direct impact on the rights of citizens and also to the extent citizens have exact accountability from institution," the apex court said on Thursday, adding that they could not gag the reporting of proceedings.

“Constitutional authorities can do better than complaining and seeking for fetters on media,” the SC said.

The court also said that observations during the course of the hearing do not bind the parties and do not form a part of the judgment.

“These oral remarks are not a part of the judicial record and therefore, the issue of expunging them does not arise. Therefore, we find no merit in the prayers of the EC,” Justice Chandrachud said, according to LiveLaw.

Noting that people are more digitally oriented now, Justice Chandrachud was quoted as saying, “With the advent of technology, real-time updates of hearing are given. This constitutes a virtual extension of the open court. This is not a cause of apprehension but a celebration of our constitutional ethos which bolsters the judiciary.”

While hearing the EC’s plea, the Supreme Court agreed that the high court’s “murder charges” remarks were quite strong. However, it added:

“The HC Judges are doing tremendous work, burning the midnight oil, they are overwhelmed. They know what’s happening on the ground. It is bound to affect your psyche.”

The apex court added that if any order is passed in favour of the EC, it could affect the morale of high courts.

The court had opined, "We are looking at this from a long term and impact on functioning of high courts. We don't want to demoralise our high courts. They are vital pillars of our democracy. Things are often said in an open dialogue between bar and bench,Bar & Bench reported.

EC Moves Apex Court Over HC Remarks

The EC had moved the Supreme Court on Saturday, 1 May, against what it called “blatantly disparaging remarks” by the Madras High Court.

The EC had moved the top court against the HC’s oral observations.

Responding to the plea, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah in SC on Monday, 3 May, had said, “We cannot, in today’s times, say that media will not report the discussions that take place in court.”

Madras High Court Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee had reprimanded the EC for failing to ensure COVID-19 norms were being followed during rallies, remarking that the EC is “singularly responsible” for the second wave of COVID-19.

“Election Commission officers should be booked on murder charges probably,” Justice Sanjib Banerjee had remarked.

The EC had also gone back to the Madras HC, seeking directions to be issued to the media to restrict their reports to observations recorded in orders or judgments, and refrain from reporting oral statements since the remarks had caused grave prejudice. This plea wasn’t entertained in the HC.

(With inputs from LiveLaw and Bar & Bench.)

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