Madras HC’s EC “should be booked for murder” remark: Judges must exercise caution when speaking in open court, says SC; refuses to gag media from reporting judges’ oral observations

THE Supreme Court Friday observed that judges need to exercise caution when they make off-the-cuff remarks in open court, which may be susceptible to misinterpretation.

“Language, both on the bench and in judgments, must comport with judicial propriety”, a two-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah said, while rejecting the Election Commission of India (ECI) appeal against Madras High Court’s oral observations that the EC was singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid19 and its officers should probably be booked for murder.

The bench, however, rejected the EC’S plea seeking to restrain the media from reporting oral observations of judges, saying that though the remarks of the Madras High Court were harsh and metaphor inappropriate, it did not seek to attribute culpability for the COVID-19 pandemic in the country to the EC.

“What instead it would have intended to do was to urge the EC to ensure stricter compliance of COVID-19 related protocols during elections”, the top court said.

The top court, however, said a degree of caution and circumspection by the High Court would have allayed a grievance of the nature that had been urged by the EC.

Also Read: EC is singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid19, says Madras HC; remarks its officers should be booked for murder charges probably

“All that needs to be clarified is that the oral observations during the course of the hearing have passed with the moment and do not constitute a part of the record. The EC has a track record of being an independent constitutional body which shoulders a significant burden in ensuring the sanctity of electoral democracy. We hope the matter can rest with a sense of balance which we have attempted to bring”, the court said, even as it pointed out that the contested oral remarks were not a part of the official judicial record, and therefore, the question of expunging them did not arise.

“It is trite to say that a formal opinion of a judicial institution is reflected through its judgments and orders, and not its oral observations during the hearing”, the court added.

On the EC’s request seeking to gag media, the court said freedom of speech and expression extends to reporting the proceedings of judicial institutions as well.

Courts are entrusted to perform crucial functions under the law. Their work has a direct impact, not only on the rights of citizens, but also the extent to which citizens can exact accountability from the executive whose duty it is to enforce the law, it said.

“Citizens are entitled to ensure that courts remain true to their remit to be a check on arbitrary exercises of power, the court said.

The EC in its appeal stated the remarks made by the high court were uncalled for, blatantly disparaging and derogatory.

It said the court made these remarks without any proof or providing adequate opportunities to allay such a perception.

“The high court ought to have appreciated that the Election Commission India enjoying a constitutional status, cannot be put to embarrassment by such baseless oral observations which lead to their publication in the press and media and thereby undermine the sanctity of another constitutional authority”, the EC stated.

It added the remarks resulted in a police complaint against a Deputy Election Commissioner after the media widely disseminated the oral observations of the Madras High Court.

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