Media Must Self-Regulate When Covering Criminal Case: Supreme Court Judge

The media cannot be liable for contempt of court at the investigation stage, the judge said.


Media must self-regulate when reporting on criminal trial, Supreme Court judge Justice Uday U Lalit said Saturday.

He was speaking as part of the Justice P D Desai Memorial Lecture Series, on whether media reporting comes in the way of fair trial. There is no law prohibiting the media from covering investigation of a crime, Justice Lalit said.

“In this country, we consider the rights of the press to be of such level, eminence, that we do not want to curtail them. No statute can curtail them. That does not mean there is complete lawlessness. There is self-regulation which the press must have,” he said.

The media must not disclose the identity of a vulnerable victim or witness, because revealing it can “tremendously affect” the outcome of a trial, Justice Lalit said.

Also, the media should not disclose the line of investigation as it can end up helping the accused, he said.

The media cannot be liable for contempt of court at the investigation stage, because under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, such offence can happen only after the charge sheet is filed in the court, he said.

A Law Commission report, suggesting that the starting point of offence (for contempt of court) should be the arrest of an accused, has not been accepted, Justice Lalit said.

“As judges, are we not trained sufficiently enough, are we not strong enough to take care of any criticism, any opinion, anything which is stated in the media?” he asked the gathering of judges and lawyers.

He also said the idea behind televising court proceedings — a proposal currently under the Supreme Court’s consideration — is to ensure transparency and to safeguard the accused’s rights further.

“When you say a man should be tried in an open court… there will be sufficient safeguard for him with members of public overseeing,” Justice Lalit said.

Courts can deal with a report that appears to be “motivated or coloured,” he said. “The superior court still has the inherent right to direct gagging of media,” Justice Lalit said, adding that Indian courts have derived this power from the Canadian jurisprudence.


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