Madras HC ‘murder’ remark against EC: SC refuses to expunge critical remarks

The top court refused to restrain the media from reporting court proceedings.
Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India
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The Supreme Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah on Thursday dismissed the Election Commission of India’s plea to restrain the media from reporting court proceedings, stating that it is essential to hold the judiciary accountable. “We find no substance in prayer of ECI to restrain media from reporting court proceedings,” the bench said.

It refused to expunge the critical remarks of the Madras High Court holding the poll panel responsible for the surge in COVID-19 cases in the country, and also trashed the plea that media be restrained from reporting observations of judicial proceedings, saying it will be a retrograde act. The bench said the media cannot be restrained from reporting observations made during the course of hearings. It will be retrograde to restrain HCs from making observations or gagging media from reporting observations, it said.

Courts have to remain alive to evolving technology of media, it is not good if media is restrained from reporting judicial proceedings, the bench said. The bench said that it looks at freedom of media not only to report the orders but also the proceedings.

According to Bar and Bench, Justice Chandrachud further stated that open access to court is the cornerstone of constitutional freedom.

Freedom of speech and expression extends to reporting proceedings in judicial institutions as well. The Courts' works have direct impact on the rights of citizens and also to the extent citizens can exact accountability from institution,” the Court said, reported LiveLaw. 

He further added that the Supreme Court must balance power so as to not hamper the independence of lower courts, and that in this case, the Madras High Court performs an intrinsic role. 

High courts have played a commendable role in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. On the other hand is the Election Commission which has conducted free and fair elections for over 70 years and its independence is essential for democracy to thrive,” he reportedly said. 

He called the remarks by the court “harsh” and that the metaphor was inappropriate, and further added that judges should exercise restraint while making such off-the-cuff remarks, Livelaw’s report stated.

This came in the matter of Madras High Court Justice Sanjib Banerjee’s remark which said  that “Election Commission officers should be booked on murder charges probably”.

On April 26 castigated the EC for the surge in COVID-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic, holding it "singularly" responsible for the spread of the viral disease, called it the "the most irresponsible institution" and even said its officials may be booked under murder charges.

The EC had moved the top court against the oral observations made by the Madras High Court. An official said based on the oral observations, which were not part of the written order, people could seek action against EC officials.

With inputs from PTI

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