Case BriefsSupreme Court

“This Court stands as a staunch proponent of the freedom of the media to report court proceedings. This we believe is integral to the freedom of speech and expression of those who speak, of those who wish to hear and to be heard and above all, in holding the judiciary accountable to the values which justify its existence as a constitutional institution.”

Supreme Court: In the case where the Election Commission of India (EC) had sought a direction restraining the media from reporting on court proceedings after Madras High Court made certain oral remarks attributing responsibility to the EC for the present surge in the number of cases of COVID-19, due to their failure to implement appropriate COVID-19 safety measures and protocol during the elections, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and MR Shah, JJ has refused to restrain the media from reporting on Court proceedings.

“It is trite to say that a formal opinion of a judicial institution is reflected through its judgments and orders, and not its oral observations during the hearing. Hence, in view of the above discussion, we find no substance in the prayer of the EC for restraining the media from reporting on court proceedings.”

During the course of the hearing, the Madras High Court had allegedly orally observed that the EC is “the institution that is singularly responsible for the second wave of COVID-19” and that the EC “should be put up for murder charges”. These remarks, though not part of the order of the High Court, were reported in the print, electronic and tele media.

EC had alleged that these remarks are baseless, and have tarnished image of the EC, which is an independent constitutional authority.

Noticing that these oral remarks are not a part of the official judicial record, and therefore, the question of expunging them did not arise, the Supreme Court said that,

“… the High Court was faced with a situation of rising cases of COVID-19 and, as a constitutional Court, was entrusted with protecting the life and liberty of citizens. The remarks of the High Court were harsh. The metaphor inappropriate. The High Court – if indeed it did make the oral observations which have been alluded to – did not seek to attribute culpability for the COVID-19 pandemic in the country to the EC. What instead it would have intended to do was to urge the EC to ensure stricter compliance of COVID-19 related protocols during elections.”

Tasked with balancing the rights of two independent constitutional authorities, the Court observed that the High Courts are often the first point of contact for citizens whose fundamental rights have been violated. High Courts are constantly in touch with ground realities in their jurisdictions.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Courts across the country have shown commendable foresight in managing the public health crisis which threatens to submerge humanity. Their anguish when they come face to face with reality must be understood in that sense.”

On the other hand, the EC has facilitated the operation of our constitutional democracy by conducting free and fair elections and regulating conduct around them for over seven decades.

“Its independence and integrity are essential for democracy to thrive. This responsibility covers powers, duties and myriad functions which are essential for conducting the periodic exercise of breathing life into our democratic political spaces.”

While the Court held that the High Court was faced with a situation of rising cases of COVID-19 and, as a constitutional Court, was entrusted with protecting the life and liberty of citizens and hence, only intended to urge the EC to ensure stricter compliance of COVID-19 related protocols during elections, it emphasised on the need for judges to exercise caution in off-the-cuff remarks in open court, which may be susceptible to misinterpretation.

“Language, both on the Bench and in judgments, must comport with judicial propriety. Language is an important instrument of a judicial process which is sensitive to constitutional values. Judicial language is a window to a conscience sensitive to constitutional ethos. Bereft of its understated balance, language risks losing its symbolism as a protector of human dignity. The power of judicial review is entrusted to the High Courts under the Constitution. So high is its pedestal that it constitutes a part of the basic features of the Constitution. Yet responsibility bears a direct co-relationship with the nature and dimensions of the entrustment of power. A degree of caution and circumspection by the High Court would have allayed a grievance of the nature that has been urged in the present case.”

The Court concluded by saying that the oral observations during the course of the hearing have passed with the moment and do not constitute a part of the record.

[Chief Election Commissioner of India v. M.R Vijayabhaskar, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 364, decided on 06.05.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

Appearances before the Court:

For EC: Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi and Advocate Amit Sharma

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: A Division Bench of Vikram Nath, CJ and P.B. Pardiwala, J., while addressing an issue with regard to the live streaming of the Court proceedings held that a committee to work out the modalities for the said purpose has been constituted comprising of two Judges of this Court.

A law student raised the issue with regard to the Live Streaming/Open Access of the Court proceedings and in the public interest Gujarat High court should work out the necessary modalities for the said purpose.

Bench on perusal of the material on record, stated that to observe the  requirement of an open Court proceedings, members of the public should be allowed to view the Court hearings through video conferencing except the proceedings ordered for the reasons recorded in writing to be conducted in-camera.

Right to Know and receive information is one of the facts of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and for which reason the public is entitled to witness the Court proceedings.

As, the above-stated Court proceedings involve the issue impacting the public at large or a section of the public.

Bench appreciated the efforts of the 3rd year law student appeared in person in the public interest.

Further, in line of the above-stated observations, Bench stated that to work out the modalities to facilitate the people at large including the media to watch the virtual hearing, Committee of two Judges of this High Court has been constituted pursuant to Standing Committee’s decision on 25-06-2020.

In the near future, a report of the committee is expected after which to allow access to the public at large including the media persons of print digital and electronic media shall be finalized.

Petition was disposed of in view of the above. [Pruthvirajsinh Zala v. Gujarat High Court, 2020 SCC OnLine Guj 1055 , decided on 20-07-2020]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of Singapore: A Single Judge Bench of Choo Han Teck, J., dismissed appeals filed against the order of the Assistant Registrar, whereby the application for stay filed by the appellants on account of an arbitration clause, was dismissed.

The main issue that arose before the Court was whether a stay should be granted in favour of three defendants (appellants) on the ground of effective case management, even though they were not parties to arbitration.

The Court observed that effective case management is not a legal principle, it is rather an administrative term used to denote the administrative functions of the courts such as placing cases in order of priority, fixing the dates for hearing, no. of days for hearing etc. Although there is a possibility of conflicting findings by the arbitrator and the Court that should not be the only ground to stop the plaintiff from proceeding against all the four defendants collectively especially when the plaintiff claims that all the four defendants had conspired to cause him harm. The order of stay was granted in favour of defendant no.1 because it was a party to the arbitration while the rest of the defendants were not.

The Court held that whatever might be the outcome of the arbitration, it will not bind the plaintiff or the three defendants in an action before the Court. Further, there was no good reason to grant a stay in favour of the three defendants, who were not even parties to the arbitration, so that they can take their seats as spectators to the arbitration proceedings. Hence, the assistant registrar had rightly rejected the application of all the other defendants apart from defendant no.1. Resultantly, the appeals filed by the appellants were dismissed by the Court. [Epoch Minerals Pte Ltd. v. Raffles Asset Management (S) Pte Ltd., [2018] SGHC 223, order dated 08-10-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

“Justice should be administered in an open court”

Supreme Court: In the matter concerning live streaming of court proceedings, the Attorney General KK Venugopal suggested “Guidelines for Live Streaming of Court proceedings in Supreme Court”.

A writ petition was filed seeking a declaration for permitting live streaming of Supreme Court case proceedings of constitutional and national importance having an impact on the public at large and further to frame guidelines for the determination of such cases which are of national and constitutional importance.

The recommendations placed by AG Venugopal were as follows:

  • Live streaming should be introduced as a pilot project in Court No. 1 and only in the Constitution Bench references.
  • Media room should be established on the premises of the court in order to ensure that all persons including journalists, interns, visitors, and lawyers have access to live streaming.
  • Supreme Court in the future may also provide for transcribing facilities and archive the audio-visual record of the proceedings to make the webcast accessible to litigants and interested persons.
  • Recommendations for the safeguarding and limiting of the broadcasting and recording of the proceedings are:
  • Court must have the power to limit, temporarily suspend or disallow filming or broadcasting, if such measures are likely to interfere with the rights of the parties to a fair trial and administration of justice.
  • Guidelines for the determination of proceedings consisting of constitutional and national importance matters.
  • Broadcasting must not be permitted in the cases involving matters such as matrimonial, interests of juveniles, national security, protection of confidential or sensitive information, cases provoking sentiments, etc.
  • The footage of live streaming would be restricted for the purpose of news, current affairs, and educational purposes.
  • Without the proper and prior authorization of the Supreme Court of India, live streaming should not be reproduced, transmitted, uploaded, posted, modified, published or re-published to the public.
  • Unauthorized usage of the live streaming or webcasts will be punishable as an offence under the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 and the Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • Courts may also lay down the rules of coverage.
  • Case management techniques should also be introduced for a speedy manner of disposal.
  • Supreme Court should also lay guidelines for having only two camera angles, one on the judge and the other on the lawyer.

The recommendations were filed by the Attorney General in relation to the petition filed by advocate-activist Indira Jaising. [Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court, WP(C) No. 66 of 2016, dated 24-08-2018]