Delhi HC lifts the Chautala Gag Order

The Delhi High Court by its judgement in Multi Sceen Media v. Vidhya Dheer and Others [FAO (OS) 119/2013], on 28th February, 2013 lifted an injunction on the telecast of a television programme reporting on the conviction of Mr. Om Prakash Chautala. The injunction order was passed reasoning that since Mr. Om Prakash Chautala was recently convicted and was filing an appeal as well as seeking bail, the telecast would interfere with his right to a fair trial and prejudice the legal proceedings.

The Division Bench overturning this injunction in appeal in no uncertain terms held that there should be an exercise of restraint in granting such “gagging orders.” The formulation commences where the Court reasons that the case concerns a conflict between, “the right to tell” and “the right to free trail”. For the latter it extends the inherent contempt power of the court and states that a publication can be prohibited in two ways, first when it impacts the impartiality of a judge and secondly when it prejudices the ability of the court to ascertain the true facts of the case.

This decision is an exercise in good sense where it seeks to apply the right interpretation to the right law. When discussing the aspect of a judge being influenced by a publication, it puts the onus on the judge, saying they should train themselves not to be influence by portrayals in the media. On the point of the publication prejudicing court proceedings, the Court states that merely because a telecast is on a pending case, does not mean that such prejudice will be caused automatically. It states that the Court has to go through the contents of such a telecast and the transcript and has to make a factual determination which is limited to it.

In Chautalas case, since the injunction did not satisfy these requisites, not reasoning the actual prejudice which would be caused or the Court even evaluating the telecast contents and transcripts, the Division Bench holds that the injunction must be set aside.The Judgement is clearly progressive, it in no uncertain terms holds that publications on pending trials by themselves are not contemptuous and even aid in checking judicial malpractices. A copy of the judgement is can be downloaded from here.

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