Police can't use media to influence public opinion against accused while investigation is pending: Delhi HC

The order was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Vibhu Bakhru in a petition preferred by Delhi riots accused and Pinjra Tod activist, Devangana Kalita.
Police can't use media to influence public opinion against accused while investigation is pending: Delhi HC
Police can't use media to influence public opinion against accused

Police or any other agency cannot use media to influence public opinion against an accused while the matter is still being investigated, the Delhi High Court stated. (Devangana Kalita vs Delhi Police)

The same (using media to influence public opinion) is not only likely to subvert the fairness of the investigation but would also have the propensity to destroy or weaken the presumption of innocence, which must be maintained in favour of the accused till he/she is found guilty after a fair trial.
Delhi High Court said.

The order was passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Vibhu Bakhru in a petition preferred by Delhi riots accused and Pinjra Tod activist, Devangana Kalita.

Kalita had moved the High Court against a Delhi Police press note which publicized information on allegations and evidence allegedly collected against her.

While Kalita argued that the press note was misleading and was prejudicial, Delhi Police claimed that in light of the social media campaign maligning the Delhi Police for Kalita's arrest, the press note was only an attempt to put "things in right perspective".

Police can't use media to influence public opinion against accused
Delhi Riots: Delhi HC restrains Delhi Police from making statements naming Pinjra Tod's Devangana Kalita till commencement of trial

Opining that there could not be any blanket order proscribing the Delhi Police from disclosing any information regarding pending cases, the Court stated that whether media reporting or disclosing of information by the investigation agency had the "propensity to prejudicially affect fair trial" had to be seen from the facts of each case.

The relevant factors to be considered would include the nature of offence for which the accused is being tried; the stage of investigation/trial; the nature of information; the vulnerability of the persons involved (accused, witness, victim or in some cases even the investigators); and the intention and purpose of circulating information.
Delhi High Court

It, however, added that "selective disclosure of information calculated to sway the public opinion" against an accused, to use media to "besmirch the reputation or credibility" of the accused and to make "questionable claims of solving cases and apprehending the guilty" when the investigation is at nascent stage, would clearly be impermissible.

This is not only because such actions may prejudicially affect a fair trial but also because it may, in some cases, have the effect of stripping the person involved of his/her dignity or subjecting him/or her to avoidable ignominy.
Delhi High Court

The Court further referred to the Office Memorandum dated April 01, 2010 issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India on media policy of police.

The Court noted that even as per this advisory, media briefing should not make any opinionated or judgmental statements and should be done only at the stages of registration of the case, arrest of accused persons, charge sheeting of the case and the final outcome of the case.

It added that the advisory states that due care should be taken to ensure that there is no violation of any legal, privacy and human rights of the accused/victims.

Thus, in view of the sensitive nature of communal riots, the Court ordered,

In the circumstances, this Court considers it apposite to direct the respondent not to issue any further communication naming any accused or any witness till the charges, if any, are framed and the trial is commenced. Unless directed otherwise, the trial is required to be conducted in open court. Thus, at this stage, this Court does not consider it apposite to restrain the respondent from issuing statements at the stage of trial.
Delhi High Court

As far as the issue of withdrawal of the impugned press note was concerned, the Court opined that the communication did not violate Kalita's fundamental rights or provisions of any law.

It noted that allegations in the press note were "faithfully lifted" from a chargesheet in one of the Delhi riots FIRs and their verasity would be a subject matter of trial.

Advocates Adit S Pujari, Kriti Awasthi, Tusharika Mattoo, Kunal Negi, Chaitanya Sundriyal appeared for Kalita.

Delhi Police was represented by ASG Aman Lekhi with SPP Amit Mahajan, SPP Rajat Nair and Advocates Ujjwal Sinha, Ritwiz Rishabh, Aniket Seth, Dhruv Pande, Chaitanya Gosain.

Read the Judgement:

Devangana Kalita vs Delhi Police.pdf
download

Related Stories

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news
www.barandbench.com