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  India   All India  14 Sep 2023  SC Tells MHA to Make Rules for Police Briefings

SC Tells MHA to Make Rules for Police Briefings

Published : Sep 14, 2023, 1:04 am IST
Updated : Sep 14, 2023, 1:04 am IST

The apex court emphasised the urgent need for a Standard Operating Procedure regarding how journalists should be briefed

Supreme Court (PTI)
 Supreme Court (PTI)

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court made several significant observations on Wednesday and directed the Union home ministry to prepare a comprehensive manual within three months, detailing how police should brief journalists about criminal cases.

The apex court emphasised the urgent need for a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) regarding how journalists should be briefed, especially given the increase in reporting on criminal offences across print, electronic, and social media since the Ministry of Home Affairs issued its last guidelines in 2010.

A bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud stressed the importance of maintaining a delicate balance between the media's fundamental right to free speech and expression, the right of the accused to a fair investigation, and the privacy of the victim.

The top court also called upon the Directors General of Police (DGPs) from all states to submit their suggestions to the Ministry of Home Affairs within a month for the formulation of the manual. The bench, which also included Justices P.S. Narasimha and Manoj Misra, stated, "All DGPs should communicate their recommendations for guidelines...The National Human Rights Commission's suggestions may also be considered."

The court noted that any premature disclosure by the police during an ongoing investigation triggers a media trial that affects the administration of justice, potentially influencing the judge overseeing the trial. It said that the nature of disclosure by the police, without an SOP, cannot be uniform and depends on the nature of the crime and the involved stakeholders, including victims, witnesses, and accused. The age and gender of the victim and accused also play a significant role in disclosure considerations.

The bench further highlighted the importance of media reporting in criminal cases, stating that it involves multiple aspects of public interest and the right to free speech, as well as the right of the public to receive diverse opinions and unbiased information.

The court recognised the competing considerations between the accused and the victim, with both requiring careful consideration, as biased reporting can lead to public suspicion and impinge on the rights of the individuals involved.

The Supreme Court stressed the need for uniform policies and guidelines to avoid media trials, ensuring that they do not prejudge the accused and that they do not interfere with the evidence presented during the trial, which could impact the assessment by adjudicating authorities.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appointed as the amicus curiae in the matter, highlighted that while the press cannot be restrained from reporting, the sources of information, often government entities, can be regulated. He cited the 2008 Aarushi Talwar murder case as an example, where multiple police officials provided different versions of the incident to the media.

The Supreme Court's directives came during the hearing of a petition regarding the procedures followed by police when briefing the media about criminal cases under investigation.

Tags: supreme court of india, media briefings