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‘Police briefing should not result in media trial’: SC directs Home Ministry to frame guidelines regarding police briefing in criminal cases

The court said, “The age, gender of accused and nature of crime will weigh on the nature of disclosure to be trial leads to deflection from the course of justice. "

On Wednesday (13 September), the Supreme Court directed the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to prepare a comprehensive manual on media briefings by the police in criminal cases so as to prevent ‘media trials’ in such cases. 

The bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and Manoj Misra highlighted that the existing guidelines were prepared a decade ago. It added that since then, there has been an upsurge in reportage of criminal cases in print, electronic, and social media. 

The court said, “The age, gender of accused and nature of crime will weigh on the nature of disclosure to be made…media trial leads to deflection from the course of justice. Bearing in mind these aspects we are of the view that the Home Ministry prepares a comprehensive manual on media briefings by police personnel.” 

The court order emphasised the need to strike a delicate balance between the fundamental right to free speech and expression, the rights of the accused to a fair investigation, and the privacy of victims. The bench stated that police disclosures during media briefings in criminal matters should be objective in nature and not subjective, having a bearing on the guilt of the accused. 

It categorically underlined that police disclosure should not result in a “media trial” stating, “It should be ensured that the disclosure doesn’t result in media trial so as to allow pre-determination of the guilt of the accused.”

The bench pointed out that media reportage at times hampers the reputation of the accused. It added that biased reporting also gives rise to public suspicion about the crime. 

It said, “At another level, media reportage also impinges upon the rights of victims and survivors of crime. In a given case the victim may be a minor while in another case the nature of the crime may involve privacy of the victim such as those involving gender violence.”   

Timeline and court directions

The Supreme Court, in its order, directed the Director Generals of Police (DGPs) of all states to submit their suggestions for preparing the comprehensive manual regarding police briefing. The bench also directed to take the input of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into consideration during the process. 

The court has given MHA a deadline of three months from the date of the order while all DGPs would have to communicate their suggestions for the guidelines to the MHA within one month. 

The matter before the Supreme Court pertains to two main issues. The first issue raised before the apex court was regarding the procedures to be followed by the police in the event of encounters. Apparently, this issue was delved in detail in the 2014 judgment of PUCL v. State of Maharashtra. 

The second issue relates to the procedure that police must follow when they conduct media briefings during ongoing criminal investigations. Earlier, the court had appointed Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan as an amicus curiae in this case.

Subsequently, the amicus curiae circulated a questionnaire to all States and Union Territories, out of which some have sent their responses. 

During the proceedings, the Senior Advocate recommended that the media cannot be restrained from reporting, however, the sources of information, which are often government entities, can be regulated. 

He said, “We cannot restrain the media from reporting. But the sources can be restrained. Because the source is the state. Even in the Aarushi case, so many versions were given to the media.”

The amicus submitted some guidelines to be considered while framing the manual. These guidelines have been prepared from the Media Relations Handbook of the Los Angeles Police Department(LAPD) and the New York Police Department(NYPD), along with the Communications Advisory of the Association of Chief Police Officers of the UK, and even the CBI manual. 

The next hearing in the case is scheduled in the second week of January.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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