Selective disclosures to the media affect the rights of accused and victim: SC

The court also directed a CBI investigation in the dowry death case before it citing serious deficiencies in investigation by UP Police

Supreme court

The Supreme Court expressed its displeasure over selective disclosure to the media, in criminal cases, could derail administration of justice. The bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud, Indira Banerjee and Indu Malhotra cancelled anticipatory bail granted to accused in a dowry death case while also directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe the case citing serious deficiencies in investigation by UP Police.

The Allahabad High Court had granted anticipatory bail to the in-laws of the deceased woman on the grounds that FIR appeared to be engineered to implicate the accused and that the allegations were general in nature.

The bench observed that the investigation by UP Police “leaves much to be desired” and pointed out how the news of the suicide note of the deceased woman was reported in newspapers in Agra. The court observed thus,

“Immediate publicity was given to the alleged suicide note. These examples are now becoming familiar. Selective disclosures to the media affect the rights of the accused in some cases and the rights of victims’ families in others. The media does have a legitimate stake in fair reporting. But events such as what has happened in this case show how the selective divulging of information, including the disclosure of material which may eventually form a crucial part of the evidentiary record at the criminal trial, can be used to derail the administration of criminal justice.”

The court further pointed out the adverse effect of such disclosures to the media mid-investigation,

“The investigating officer has a duty to investigate when information about the commission of a cognizable offence is brought to their attention. Unfortunately, this role is being compromised by the manner in which selective leaks take place in the public realm. This is not fair to the accused because it pulls the rug below the presumption of innocence. It is not fair to the victims of crime, if they have survived the crime, and where they have not, to their families. Neither the victims nor their families have a platform to answer the publication of lurid details about their lives and circumstances.”

The court also refuted the assertion that the FIR makes no mention of the suicide notes despite its publication in news media. “To expect that they should be scouring the pages of the print and electronic media before reporting the crime is a mockery of the human condition. The apprehension of the appellant that A-2 and his family have a prominent social status in Agra and may have used their position in society to thwart a proper investigation cannot be regarded to be unjustified,” states the order.

Raising questions over the investigation carried out thus far, the court stated, “The conduct of the investigating authorities from the stage of arriving at the scene of occurrence to the filing of the charge-sheet do not inspire confidence in the robustness of the process… The status of the accused as propertied and wealthy persons of influence in Agra and the conduct of the investigation thus far diminishes this Court’s faith in directing a further investigation by the same authorities. The cause of justice would not be served if the Court were to confine the scope of its examination to the wisdom of granting anticipatory bail and ignore the possibility of a trial being concluded on the basis of a deficient investigation at best or a biased one at worst”.

The complete judgement may be read here.


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