Gag order should be passed only if publication bears substantial risk to fair trial: Delhi High Court
The Delhi High Court recently observed that gag orders should be passed only when it is necessary to prevent substantial risk to the fairness of a trial [Ajay Kumar v. Union of India & Ors].
Justice Subramonium Prasad added that just because a publication relates to court proceedings, it cannot be concluded that it is affecting a fair trial. The court has to carefully see the nature of the publication and find out whether or not the content of the publication will cause prejudice to the trial.
“Prejudice by a publication can be of two categories one which tends to impair the courts impartiality and the other which prejudices the court's ability to determine true facts… It is well settled that gag orders should be passed only when it is necessary and to prevent substantial risk to fairness of a trial,” the single-judge said.
The Court made these observations while imposing costs of ₹10,000 on a man named Ajay Kumar seeking gag orders against Hindustan Times and Dainik Jagran newspapers. He had sought directions to these newspapers to conceal his identity while circulating news or any article published by them.
It was his case that the two newspapers carried an article naming him at the behest of a police officer to prejudice a case filed by his mother against the officer.
Kumar alleged that the police officer briefed the journalists regarding a case pending before a consumer forum in Lucknow.
The Court noted that the petitioner had neither stated the prayer of the writ petition filed by his mother nor a copy of the consumer complaint about which the police officer briefed Hindustan Times and Dainik Jagran journalists.
“The Petitioner has come to this Court seeking for a gag order against Respondents No.2 & 3 without bringing on record all the relevant facts and material. This Court is of the opinion that the instant petition is nothing but a complete abuse of the process of law by the Petitioner. A reading of newspaper cuttings does not give any indication that it pertains to any consumer complaint in which the Petitioner is involved. A reading of the newspaper cuttings also does not indicate that it is in any way connected to the Writ Petition filed by the mother of the Petitioner,” the Court observed.
It, therefore, dismissed the plea and imposed a fine of ₹10,000 on Kumar, to be paid to the Armed Forces Battle Casualty Welfare Fund.
Advocates Aditi Shivadhatri, Capt Subedita Rani and RR Bharati appeared for the petitioner Ajay Kumar.
Union of India was represented through its Senior Panel Counsel Himanshu Pathak as well as advocates Mimansak Bhardwaj and Samman Kumar Singh.