If arguments, that are still being debated in the courtroom and haven’t reached a conclusion, are put in the social media domain, it can only only lead to speculation, mis-information and hyperbole 

Drawing upon my experience as a journalist and a fresh law graduate, I firmly believe that live reporting/tweeting from a judicial proceeding can interfere with a fair trial and lead to trial by social media and just sensationalise any sensitive issue.

Here I have tried to answer the 10 questions drawn by a committee – “Media Reporting in Courts Balancing Free Press, Fair Trial and Integrity of Judicial Proceedings” constituted by Hon’ble the Acting Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi.

This questionnaire is out for suggestions from public for forming an accreditation procedure for reporters. It’s a must for court reporters and lawyers to discuss this. So here are my answers:

  1. Should accreditation be mandatory to report pending court proceedings?

In High Court, yes.

  1. For what kind of reporting should accreditation be required?

Publication (print, electronic or television) by a media organization and independent person, both.

  1. What qualifications/experience must be met for receiving accreditation? Check all that apply.

-LLB Degree should not be mandatory as journalism now-a-days has it’s own technical degree. In those degrees, court can direct institutes to provide lessons on court reporting to students.

-Prior experience in court reporting can be made mandatory- an year or two in district courts- before moving to the High Court.  Experience only in ordinary reporting should not suffice because even as a lawyer, one is expected to first learn the tricks of trade in the lower court.

-Proof of current employment by a media organization should be there.

-Court-organised training can be done. Alternative can be formation of guidelines to be followed by media houses to give training to court reporters regarding basics in Constitutional, Civil and Criminal law.

  1. What should be the duration for which accreditation is granted?

At least 2 years at a time. It’s a decent period to learn and see how good one is. Then renewal process can be done on certain conditions.

  1. What benefits should accreditation provide?

Carrying phone/electronic communication device to court should be allowed. But live text messaging/communication/online publications regarding court proceedings should not be allowed.

  1. Should there be a separate seating arrangement for accredited reporters?

Definitely, there should be a decent space. But I will go with the Supreme Court’s Press Accreditation panel’s decision against journalists entering the ‘Well’ – the space between the arguing counsel and the elevated dais of the sitting judges – in the courtroom.

  1. What should be the penalty for mis-reporting by an accredited person?                                               For minor mis-reporting, there should be warning and an explanation can be asked for from the journalist.

For major mis-reporting, it’s really a tricky one to answer. Temporary suspension of accreditation can be the least punishment. However, depending upon the gravity of mis-reporting, there can be permanent withdrawal of accreditation or financial penalty on the reporter/organization, which can be only decided by facts and circumstances of the case by the concerned court or bench.

  1. Should reporting of oral observations by judges be allowed?

No. To put anything, that is yet to be decided, out in the public domain can not just lead to sensationalism or trial by media, but will tantamount to abuse of due process of law, as more likely than not it can be read out of context. Moreover, a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi once said, “Most of the judges do not like to be quoted about their observations made during a debate. In the course of the debate, we make certain tentative observations. We say without mincing words.” Thus, there is no point in debating about any argument that took place in the court, without it having reached it’s finality in the judgement.

  1. Who should be permitted to carry electronic devices into the courtroom?

Personal phones can be allowed for lawyers, accredited reporters, litigants and the general public, with the usual restrictions on their usage which are generally followed as per the decorum of the court.

  1. Should real-time reporting (e.g. live-tweeting) of court proceedings be permitted?

No. As noted in point number 8, exposing any argument or opinion of the judge or the lawyer in the case, that has not reached finality, to twitter can lead to trial by social media. As we have seen many a times now, things are blown out of proportion on twitter- making a mountain out of molehill. This can put sensitive issues in the social media realm of speculation, misinformation and hyperbole. There is a great chance that it can have an adverse affect on the case as well.

The public notice of the Delhi High Court can be accessed here.

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