Media Cannot Be Used by Police to Influence Public Opinion to Accept Guilt of Accused: Delhi HC

Media Cannot Be Used by Police to Influence Public Opinion to Accept Guilt of Accused- Delhi HC

July 28, 2020, Tuesday

Anjana Gopinath

The Delhi High Court stated that the Police’s justification to fuel a media trial merely because the supporters of the accused are proclaiming her innocence, cannot be approved. A Single Bench of the High Court comprising of Justice Vibhu Bakhru observed the same while hearing a case filed by Devangana Kalita, a Pinjra Tod member, who sought quashing of the press note issued against her by the Delhi Police alleging her involvement in the Delhi riots conspiracy.

The impugned press note had leveled allegations against the Petitioner of preparing a conspiracy to instigate riots in the Jaffrabad area of Delhi. The said press note also claimed that the Petitioner is connected to the ‘India Against Hate’ group and that a WhatsApp message was found on the phone of an accused which revealed the conspiracy and the preparation behind the Delhi riots.

Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, who appeared for the Delhi Police submitted in defense of the press note that it was issued in response to a campaign run by the Pinjra Tod group on social media against the investigation conducted by the Police.

The Court while addressing the matter, observed that there is a key difference in making an effort to influence the formation of an opinion that an accused is not guilty and the State attempting to influence opinion to the contrary. The Court stated that “An expression of an opinion that an accused is not guilty does not destroy the presumption of innocence that must be maintained till an accused is tried and found guilty of an offence. A media campaign to pronounce a person guilty would certainly destroy the presumption of innocence.

The Single Bench also cited the judgment in the case of Romila Thapar v. Union of India, wherein it is stated that “the use of the electronic media by the investigating arm of the State to influence public opinion during the pendency of an investigation subverts the fairness of the investigation. The police are not adjudicators nor do they pronounce upon guilt.” However, the court held that the said press note did not violate Article 21 of the Constitution or any other law in force.

The Court also directed the Delhi Police not to issue any further communication naming any accused or any witness till the charges, if any, are framed and the trial is commenced.

The case titled as Devangana Kalita v. Delhi Police was heard by the Court on the 27th of July.

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