Supreme Court Guidelines on Media Reporting on Sub Judice Matters


In a constitutional democracy based on regulation of jurisprudence, citizens operate under a aureate regulation: “ The right to swing my fist ends where the other adult male ‘s nose Begins ” . This articulation by American legal expert Oliver Wendell Holmes[ 1 ]has conveyed to everyone, including newspaper newsmans, that their right to freedom of look is non higher than the cardinal rights of others.

If a baseless swing of a newsman ‘s pen scratches another ‘s olfactory organ, so he faces jurisprudence like ordinary citizens. But, some grave and ceaseless misreporting in media in the last few months had forced the Supreme Court to represent a five-Judge fundamental law bench to consider on bordering describing guidelines on sub-judice affairs.

This paper seeks to foreground the demand to modulate sensational coverage of a Sub Judice affairs by the media.


The fact that media is regarded as one of the pillars of democracy is no longer a myth. Freedom of media is the freedom of people to be informed of public affairs. Free and healthy imperativeness is indispensable to working of the democracy. Democracy means doing of the authorities by the people and to hold active engagement in the community determination. It is, hence, needed that the people be informed about current and firing personal businesss of society. Duty of the imperativeness and media is to do the people enlightened over issues associating to public importance. It is why freedom of address and look has been extended to include freedom of imperativeness and media. The right to freedom of look is contained in Art.19 of the Indian Constitution. But this freedom is non absolute. Reasonable limitations are permitted by sub-clause ( 2 ) of the same article. Freedom of look does non intend the freedom to perpetrate disdain of tribunal.

Parties to judicial proceeding hold a constitutional right to hold a just test in tribunal of jurisprudence by an impartial court, free, just and unswayed by any force per unit area. This right of just test may be defeated if the media while describing a affair usage such a linguistic communication which may hold an consequence to act upon the head of a Judge and command the judicial procedures. With the growing of Cable Television and Channels, Local Radios, News Papers and Magazines, Networks and Internet the scope and range of media has increased a batch. In recent clip there have been legion cases in which media has conducted the test of an accused and has passed the finding of fact even before the tribunal passes its judgement. This phenomenon is popularly called as media test. Trial is a word, which is associated with the procedure of justness. Given of artlessness is the footing of condemnable law and it is the indispensable constituent of any judicial system that the accused should have a just test. Acerate leaf to remind that in recent times, in order to sensationalize the coverage and to increase its commercial value, the media starts calling and faulting the suspect or accused. Photographs and other stuffs in the signifier of interview etc. are published and shown along with public reaction. The job is more seeable when the affairs involve large name and famous persons. In such instances media describing can swing popular sentiments either manner. It is, hence, necessary to do a balance between the constitutional warrant of free media on one manus and the single right to fair test on the other.

Case Laws: Observations of the Apex Court and Courts elsewhere.

InSaibal Kumar vs. B.K. Sen[ 2 ] , the Supreme Court tried to deter the inclination of media test and remarked, “No uncertainty, it would be arch for a newspaper to consistently carry on an independent probe into a offense for which a adult male has been arrested and to print the consequences of the probe. This is because test by newspapers, when a test by one of the regular courts of the state is traveling on, must be prevented. The footing for this position is that such action on the portion of a newspaper tends to interfere with the class of justness, whether the probe tends to prejudice the accused or the prosecution.”

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In theIndian Expressopinion [ 3 ] the apex tribunal had said the right to freedom of look enjoyed by newsmans could be subjected to limitations as those provided under Article 19 ( 2 ) of the Constitution.

InAttorney General v. British Broadcasting Corporation[ 4 ] , it was held by Lord Dilhorne that although judicial system relies on the competency, nonpartisanship and bravery of the test justice and one can reason for unrestrained media converge of tribunal continuing merely on the land that it will non act upon the judgement.

Although in position of Lord Denning, a professional justice will non be influenced by media coverage which affects merely common adult male. This construct of judicial high quality was non endorsed by Lord Dilhorne.

Even in United States the bench has been of the position that the tribunal can non work decently if a coverage is calculated to upset the judicial head. InJohn D. Pennekamp vs. State of Florida[ 5 ] it was observed, “No Judge tantrum to be one is likely to be influenced consciously, except by what he see or hears in tribunal and by what is judicially appropriate for his deliberations. However, Judges are besides human and we know better than did our forbears how powerful is the pull of the unconscious and how unreliable the rational process—and since Judges, nevertheless loyalist, are human, the delicate undertaking of administrating justness ought non to be made unduly hard by irresponsible print.”

In M.P. Lohia vs. State of West Bengal [ 6 ] the Supreme Court has strongly deprecated the media for interfering with the disposal of justness by printing nonreversible articles touching on virtues of instances pending in the tribunals. Indicating out that the article was a nonreversible version of the instance, N. Santosh Hedge Justice said that the facts narrated therein are stuffs that may be used in the extroverted test in this instance and that this type of article looking in the media would surely interfere with the disposal of justness. He remarked- “We deprecate this pattern and cautiousness the Publisher, Editor and the journalist who are responsible for the said articles against indulging in such test by media when the issue is sub-judice. Others concerned in news media would take note of this displeasure expressed by us for interfering with the disposal of justness. ”

Media coverage and the breach of confidentiality during the hearing of the difference between Sahara Group and market regulator SEBI.

In February 2012, the Security Exchange Board of India ( SEBI ) had leaked to media the inside informations of Sahara’s proposal reciting collaterals to procure investors’ involvement, later it was hauled up by the Apex Court [ 7 ] . In February, the followers was reportedly the Court’s observation: “ We are hard-pressed to observe that even ‘without bias ‘ proposals sent by advocate for the plaintiff in errors ( Sahara ) to the advocate for SEBI, has come on one of the Television channels. Such incidents are increasing by the twenty-four hours. Such coverage non merely impact the concern sentiments but besides interfere in the disposal of justness, ” a bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said.

Covering the affair with extreme earnestness and maintaining in head the fortunes, the tribunal had requested advocate on both sides to do written application to the Apex tribunal so that appropriate orders could be passed by with respect to coverage of affairs, which are sub-judice, ” the bench, besides consisting justnesss A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar said [ 8 ] .

Subsequently, Supreme Court constituted a five-Judge fundamental law bench and set about the exercising of bordering guidelines after having ailments of breach of confidentiality during the hearing of this difference.

Observations of the Bench reexamining media coverage of Sub Judice Matters.

The Supreme Court after giving due considerations to assorted facts, fortunes and logical thinking has refused to border guidelines [ 9 ] across the board for describing sub-judice affairs but at the same clip laid down a constitutional rule under which aggrieved parties can seek delay of publication of tribunal hearings.

The five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said it was puting down the constitutional rule which will let the aggrieved parties to seek from appropriate tribunal the delay of the publication of tribunal hearings.

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The bench said the concerned tribunal will make up one’s mind the inquiry of delay of describing tribunal proceedings on individual footing.

“We are non bordering guidelines but we have laid down constitutional rule and appropriate writ tribunals will make up one’s mind when the delay order has to be passed on individual footing, ” the bench besides consisting justnesss D K Jain, S S Nijjar, Ranjana Prakash Desai and J S Khehar said [ 10 ] .

The Court observed that parties have the right to negociate in privateness and the freedom of address under Article 19 ( 1 ) ( a ) can non be exercised to sabotage such privateness. The determination of the Court is educative on the jurisprudence of anterior restraint of publication and sub-judice coverage in several legal powers such as the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. [ 11 ]

Further mentioning the instance of Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra [ 12 ] , the Apex tribunal ruled that, this Court dealt with the power of a tribunal to carry on tribunal proceedings in camera under its built-in powers and besides to by the way forbid publication of the tribunal proceedings or grounds of the instances outside the tribunal by the media. It may be stated that “open Justice” is the basis of our judicial system. It instils religion in the judicial and legal system. However, the right to open justness is non absolute. It can be restricted by the tribunal in its built-in legal power as done in Mirajkar’s instance if the necessities of disposal of justness so demand… Even in US, the said rule of unfastened justness outputs to the said necessities of disposal of justice.”

The Court further observed that the Court observes that Courts of Record ( such as High Courts ) under Article 129/Article 215 have built-in powers to forbid publication of tribunal proceedings or the grounds of informants.

Noting farther the SC held that if one reads Article 19 ( 2 ) which refers to jurisprudence in relation to Contempt of Court with the first portion of Article 129 and Article 215, it becomes clear that the power is conferred on the High Court and the Supreme Court to see that “the disposal of justness is non perverted, prejudiced, obstructed or interfered with” .

The Court so said that to guarantee that disposal of justness is non prejudiced or perverted clearly includes power of the Supreme Court/High Court to forbid temporarily, statements being made in the media which would prejudice or blockade or interfere with the disposal of justness in a given instance pending in the Supreme Court or the High Court or even in the subsidiary tribunals [ 13 ]

Doctrine of Postponement

Although the Apex Court bench ruled that guidelines on media describing can non be framed across the board, but at the same clip the Court has laid down a constitutional rule under which aggrieved parties can seek delay of publication of tribunal hearings. This constitutional philosophy is Doctrine of Postponement. [ 14 ]

The Court has observed that given of artlessness is held to be a human right. If in a given instance the appropriate Court finds violation of such given by inordinate damaging promotion by the newspapers ( in general ) , so under built-in powers, the Courts of Record suo motu or on being approached or on study being filed before it by low-level tribunal can under its built-in powers under Article 129 or Article 215 base on balls orders of delay of publication for a limited period. This may be done if the applier is able to show significant hazard of bias to the pending test and provided he is able to displace the given of unfastened justness and to that extent the load will be on the applier who seeks such delay of piquing publication.

While propounding the philosophy of delay of publication of tribunal proceedings, the bench said it is a preventative step and non a prohibitory and punitory step. [ 15 ]

The Court dealt with mechanisms which neutralize the consequence of damaging publication/reportage. In this context, the Court discussed the object and practicality of “postponement orders”- orders which postpone the publication of content which may hold the consequence of interfering with/prejudicing disposal of justness.

The bench headed by the CJI has further said, “balancing of such rights or equal public involvement by order of delay of publication or promotion in instances in which there is existent and significant hazard of bias to the proper disposal of justness or to the equity of test and within the above enumerated parametric quantities of necessity and proportionality would fulfill the trial of rationality in Articles 14 and 19 ( 2 ) .”

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The bench has even ruled that in instance of condemnable disdain, the piquing act must represent intervention with disposal of justness. Contempt legal power of tribunals of record signifiers portion of their built-in legal power under Article 129/ Article 215. Superior Courts of Record have inter alia built-in overseer legal power to penalize disdain committed in connexion with proceedings before inferior tribunals.

The trial as given by the bench is that the publication ( existent and non planned publication ) must make a existent and significant hazard of bias to the proper disposal of justness or to the equity of test. It is of import to bear in head that sometimes even just and accurate coverage of the test ( state slaying test ) could however give rise to the “real and significant hazard of serious prejudice” to the connected tests. In such instances, though rare, there is no other practical agencies short of postponement orders that is capable of avoiding the existent and significant hazard of bias to the connected tests.

Therefore, postponement orders safeguard equity of the affiliated tests. The rule implicit in postponement orders is that it prevents possible disdain. Of class, before go throughing postponement orders, Courts should look at the content of the piquing publication ( as alleged ) and its consequence.

Such postponement orders operate on existent publication. Such orders direct delay of the publication for a limited period. Therefore, if one reads Article 19 ( 2 ) , Article 129/ Article 215 and Article 142 ( 2 ) , it is clear that Courts of Record “have all the powers including power to punish” which means that Courts of Record have the power to prorogue promotion in appropriate instances as a preventative step without upseting its content.” [ 16 ]

Difference of sentiment on the SC finding of fact

The philosophy of proroguing publication of sub judice instances evolved by the Supreme Court on has evoked assorted response from legal experts. Some said it would make serious jobs and open the floodgates for the high and mighty to seek practical censoring, while others felt that it would non take to unreasonable media limitations.

Few Senior advocators terming this as an “imbalanced” judgement has said that it would profit the influential accused to seek pre-publication prohibition. While others said that said the philosophy of delay would non take to unreasonable limitations but there was demand for self-regulation alternatively of media guidelines. [ 17 ]


Restriction on media test is necessary so that the people may non hold a incorrect perceptual experience of the disposal of Justice System. Over the old ages we have seen that media tests do make a existent and significant hazard of bias to the proper disposal of justness or to the equity of test. It is of import to bear in head that sometimes even just and accurate coverage of the test ( state slaying test ) could however give rise to the “real and significant hazard of serious prejudice” to the connected tests. So far as a condemnable test is concern media coverage has a more negative influence instead than a positive consequence. The media can non be granted a free manus in tribunal proceedings [ 18 ] .

Although the Supreme Court in Sahara V SEBI instance has non ventured out to proclaim any kind of copy-book guidelines to maintain media off from describing Sub judice affairs but at the same clip it has given a constitutional rule in the name of philosophy of delay which would decidedly assist in seeking a kind of ordinance over sensational coverage of a Sub Judice affair. [ 19 ]

The media has to be decently regulated. One manner is the resort to the Law of Contempt. But, in the involvement of democracy, it is better to hold a self-regulated and self-restraining media in comparing to a media regulated by the tribunal and the province.