Thursday, October 22, 2020

Crime-Justice

AG to SC: Media freely commenting on pending cases amounts to contempt

PUNJAB NEW EXPRESS | October 13, 2020 09:00 PM

NEW DELHI: Attorney General K.K. Venugopal on Tuesday submitted before the Supreme Court that media comments on pending cases are an attempt to influence judges and their outcome, which is equivalent to contempt of court.

The Centre's top law officer contended before a bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar that issues should be clubbed with the questions of law formulated by the top court in 2009 contempt case against advocate Prashant Bhushan. He added that the top court has already upheld that any attempt to influence a sub judice matter will amount to contempt.

The AG said: "Print and electronic media are freely commenting on pending cases, which is an attempt to influence the outcome of a matter." He added that this amounts to contempt and asked the top court to examine the role of media.

Venugopal emphasised that the trend in media has taken serious proportions these days. Citing a plea in connection with a bail matter, he added when a bail plea of an accused is scheduled for hearing, a TV channel flashes conversations (between accused and someone), which is very damaging to the accused.

Citing the Rafale matter, Venugopal said when this matter was scheduled for a hearing before the top court, then there were big articles and commentaries with extracts of certain documents, which was published in the morning of the same day.

He contended these issues should also be examined when the top court decides issues connected with the kind of speech and publication amounts to contempt. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing Bhushan, disagreed with the AG's suggestions to club these issues in the Bhushan's contempt matter.

Dhavan added issues related to sub-judice cases are already covered by the Sahara judgement, and clubbing these issues together would eventually complicate the matter under consideration of the court.

Dhavan quoted Lord Reid asking, when Shylock's case is on, can we tell the Press not to talk about it?

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing journalist Tarun Tejpal, said the contempt law should be seen in the backdrop of modern communication system.

The AG said he will hold discussions with Dhavan and Sibal in the matter.

The top court also requested senior advocate Harish Salve, who was amicus curiae since 2009 in the matter, to assist the court on the next date and adjourned the hearing in the matter on November 4.

The case is in connection with suo moto contempt proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court in 2009 against Bhushan over his remarks against the judiciary in an interview with 'Tehelka' Magazine.

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