Court unhappy with ‘trial by media’

August 21st, 2008 - 10:09 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 21 (IANS) The judiciary has the “great responsibility” of protecting the rights of an individual from an “unwarranted trial by media”, Delhi High Court said Thursday even as it held two lawyers guilty of bribing a witness on the basis of a sting operation.”In respect of some (criminal) cases, the justice delivery system in our country progresses virtually at a snail’s pace and often an innocent person has no real remedy available to him, if he is framed in a manner, or is subjected to a trial by media.

“Such being the reality, we are of the opinion that the courts have a great responsibility and, therefore, need to be far more vigilant and proactive in protecting the rights and reputation of an individual from an unwarranted trial by media,” a division bench of Justices Manmohan Sarin and Madan B. Lokur noted in its 112-page ruling.

After establishing authenticity of the undercover investigation telecast by private news channel NDTV, the bench held senior advocates R.K. Anand and I.U. Khan guilty of “obstructing administration of justice” and debarred them from practising for four months.

“While the sting operation conducted on Anand and Khan may be criticised on ethical grounds and as violating their privacy and may have left them with a sense of having been deceived by key witness Sunil Kulkarni, to say that they were trapped into indiscretions would certainly not be correct because the tenor of the conversations that they had with Kulkarni does not suggest that they were being led up the garden path.

“Moreover, both Anand and Khan are seasoned lawyers with a tremendously long stint at the Bar and it is difficult to imagine that they would not have suspected anything amiss had the conversation with Kulkarni been anything but normal,” said the bench.

Commenting on the media’s role, the bench stated: “We are not concerned with journalistic norms or how the mass media ‘behaves’ in a given situation. This is really a matter that falls within the domain of journalists and broadcasters and their disciplinary bodies. The courts come into the picture only if there is an allegation of transgression of the law by the media.

“Similarly, if there is an allegation of defamation by the media against an individual, he has the right to approach the courts to redress his grievances. The courts are not and cannot be expected to deal with subjective issues of bias, attitude, behaviour in reporting events.”

Calling upon the judiciary to “energize the rule of law”, it said: “While this may add to the burden of our criminal courts, we are of the view that it is imperative for the courts to protect a citizen from what may appear to be victimization - this is certainly the duty, if not an obligation, of courts.”

The sting operation, conducted last year, showed the two advocates asking key witness Sunil Kulkarni to change his testimony, in exchange for a large sum, to favour Sanjeev Nanda, accused of mowing down six people on the Lodhi Road in central Delhi in the early hours of Jan 10, 1999.

The expose, according to NDTV, had been conducted by Kulkarni himself, using a hidden camera though he later protested when the channel telecast the tapes in “public interest”.

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