A group of civil liberties activists and four senior journalists have urged the Supreme Court not to gag lawyers and litigants from speaking to the media about sub judice matters, pleading that this would have serious repercussions for the freedom of press and free speech in the country.
The activists filed two separate intervention applications on Monday asking to be heard before the court issues any order on contempt proceedings initiated by attorney-general K.K. Venugopal and the Centre against prominent advocate Prashant Bhushan.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha had on February 6, while issuing notice to Bhushan, decided to frame guidelines on whether advocates can participate in television debates or write articles in newspapers and magazines, particularly in matters in which they are appearing.
Venugopal and the Centre had filed the contempt petition against Bhushan for his tweets accusing the government of misleading the top court in a case on the appointment of M. Nageswara Rao as CBI interim director. Bhushan had tweeted that the attorney-general had misled the court by claiming that approval of the selection committee was taken before appointing Rao although no such approval had been taken.
The application moved by journalists Arun Shourie, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Manoj Mitta and N. Ram said “…any restraint on lawyers and litigants from commenting on matters pending in the court would also amount to restraints on the media from carrying those comments”.
Any such order by the court would have “serious consequences on the freedom of the press, its rights under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution and its ability to inform the people about important public interest issues pending in the courts”, it said.
The journalists said several cases of intense public importance remain pending in courts for long years. The disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa took 20 years to be decided and the Ram Janmabhoomi case has been going on for decades, the application filed through advocate Pranav Sachdeva said.
“Can it be maintained that for 20 years no one could talk about the facts and issues involved in the Jayalalithaa case or for decades in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute?” the application asked.
The other petition, filed by activists Aruna Roy, Wajahat Habibullah, Arundhati Roy, Harsh Mander, Jayati Ghosh, Prabhat Patnaik, Indu Prakash Singh, Shailesh Gandhi, Bezawadi Wilson and Nikhil Dey, said any restraint on lawyers and litigants on commenting on pending court proceedings would also hit the right of people to be informed about matters of public interest.
The application, filed through advocate Kamini Jaiswal, said such restrictions would deprive people “of accurate information” about the cases without any benefit whatsoever since others, including the media, are permitted to talk about those cases.
The applicants feel that lawyers and litigants involved in the cases are usually the best informed about the proceedings and therefore they are most likely to provide accurate information about the proceedings,” it said.