A Delhi Court today took note of the “disturbing trend” of media reporting the “exact content” of chargesheets even before cognizance is taken and hoped that such reportage does not occur in the future (State v. Tahir Hussain & ors).
Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat of the Karkardooma Court stated in his order,
“It is one thing to report generally about the chargesheet but quite another to reproduce it as it is and thus, obviously, the question of leak would arise. This is grossly unfair and unjustified and the court expects that it would not occur in future.”
The Court passed the order after the issue was raised by several accused who were present before it through video conference in connection with the FIR registered by the Delhi Police in the Delhi riots case.
Advocate Adit Pujari, appearing for accused Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, informed the Court that even before cognizance of the fresh supplementary chargesheet was taken in the present case, excerpts from the same were reproduced in the media.
“Excerpts of chargesheet are in newspapers when chargesheet has not even been given to the accused,” Pujari said as he urged the Court to direct the supply of the same to the accused as well.
Counsel for accused Umar Khalid added that the accused persons were being “painted guilty without trial” and the same was making things very difficult for them.
Referring to a news report declaring Khalid and other co-accused as guilty, the lawyer added that such reportage was making all of them vulnerable in jails.
Reference was also made to the discrimination being faced by other accused persons including Asif Iqbal Tanha, Khalid Saifi and Ishrat Jahan.
“It is happening again and again,” Khalid’s counsel said as he pointed out that the issue was raised by him in a separate proceeding in another riots FIR.
Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad, appearing for the prosecution, said that he supported the concerns with respect to media leaks and selective media coverage.
He nonetheless added that nothing prevented the accused persons from moving the High Court for appropriate remedy.
“Every injury has a separate remedy,” Prasad said.
In view of the submissions of the parties, the Court opined that there should always be a “disclaimer” as to whether the reported version was that of the prosecution or the accused.
“Though it is not possible to lay down guidelines regarding media coverage, in the present oral application and in the present jurisdiction, yet, in my opinion, there should, at least, always be a disclaimer when reporting, whether it is the version of the police/prosecution or the accused instead of presenting as of it is the order of the court,” the Court said.
The Court emphasised on the right of every accused to defend himself adding that there is big difference between an accused and a convict.
“Media reporting particularly on social media remains charged up all the time. Media is free to cover the stories but they must also be conscious of remaining careful and objective in their approach.. There is a world of difference between an accused and a convict.”
The Court also observed that labelling the police as completely unfair or the accused as a convict was not a “healthy sign”.
“Labeling the police as completely unfair or the accused as a convict itself, is not a healthy sign and which impacts the process of criminal justice system. The principles and tenets of free and fair trial are sacrosanct and inviolable.”
Vide the same order, the Court today also took cognizance of offences of sedition, promoting enmity between groups, abetment and criminal conspiracy against all 18 accused persons in the FIR invoking provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
The Court recorded that the requisite sanction from the government authorities has been taken.
“On the perusal of the record, I take cognizance of the offences under Section 124A/153A/109/120B of IPC against all the 18 accused persons.
Let the copy of supplementary challan and accompanying documents be supplied to all accused persons in pen drive.”
Till date, Delhi Police has filed one chargesheet and two supplementary chargesheets in the matter.
In the latest supplementary chargesheet, Delhi Police has brought on record material in connection with the death of HC Ratan Lal and Intelligence Bureau Officer Ankit Sharma.
SPP Prasad said that investigation in the case would continue until all perpetrators were identified and brought on record.
The accused persons shall continue to remain in judicial custody till March 12.