ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA V. MR VIJAYA BHASKAR (2021)


INTRODUCTION 

Date of judgment : 6 May 2021  Judges : Justice D.Y Chandrachud, Justice M.R Shah  In this case, the Madras High Court panel of judges made a remark against the election commission and held them answerable for the second wave. The Election Commission sought the assistance of the Honorable court for supervision on how to hold back the media from communicating those very same remarks.  Greater questions surrounding media speech and expression rights, citizen access to information, and judicial accountability to the nation have indeed been raised in this appeal. It has been brought up to discuss the freedom of the media to report on both judgements and judicial proceedings, as well as the responsibility of a judge to perform court proceedings and to have discussions during a hearing.

FACT OF THE CASE

A complex rebalancing of the power between two constitutional bodies in this appeal has led to broader discussions concerning the nation’s judiciary’s commitment to freedom of expression, media freedom, and citizen access to information. The topic of discussion has focused on the freedom of news organizations to cover court decisions and proceedings, as well as the duty of judges to bring cases to trial and conduct hearings.

What limits characterize the patterns of behavior in the courts  In an era where information is always coming to light, what issues should courts be aware of? Why is a courtroom full of media representatives? Above all, can a constitutional body—the Indian Election Commission in this case—make the case that its standing as a constitutional In this specific case, does the Indian Election Commission—in a system of checks and balances based on traditional values—present the argument that, because it is a constitutional body, it is immune from judicial oversight?

The decision rendered on April 30, 2021, by a Division Bench of the High Court of India in Madras is the reason behind this Special Leave Petition. The High Court heard a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution to make sure that COVID-related regulations are followed in the polling stations at the 135-Karur Legislative Assembly Voting base in Tamil Nadu.

It is alleged that the Division Bench stated during the hearings that the EC bears ultimate responsibility for the current COVID-19 spike.cases as a result of their flagrant disregard for the necessary COVID-19 safety measures and correct protocol during the elections.

The matter at hand concerns the High Court’s oral remarks, which the European Commission maintains are wholly unfounded and damaged the organization’s reputation as an autonomous constitutional regulator.

On February 26, 2021, the Election Commission formally confirmed the holding of general elections for the Legislative Assemblies of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam, and Puducherry. The election schedule for the State of Tamil Nadu stipulated that votes would be counted on May 2, 2021, and voting would take place on April 6, 2021.In a letter dated March 12, 2021, the EC emphasized the importance of strictly adhering to COVID-19 protocol guidelines while conducting the elections to the leaders and general secretaries of all national and state political parties.

On April 9, 2021, during the voting phase, the EC sent the political parties the following letter, expressing dissatisfaction over their candidates’ noncompliance with COVID-19-related regulations about mask wear, social distancing, and other limitations.

It further said that if the rules were consistently broken, the EC would consider prohibiting sizable protests and rallies. Ultimately, on campaign days around 7 pm, the EC strictly prohibited rallies, large gatherings, and street performances.

It further said that If the rules were consistently broken, the EC would consider prohibiting sizable protests and rallies. Ultimately, on campaign days, between 7 p.m. and 10 a.m., the EC firmly prohibited rallies, mass gatherings, and street performances through a notification released on April 16, 2021. A similar letter was released that same day, emphasizing how crucial it is to strictly follow all COVID-19 safety protocols.

ISSUES RAISED IN  THE CASE

  1. Should the reporting of oral statements made by news organizations during court proceedings be outright prohibited?

PROVISION INVOLVED 

  • Article 19(1)(A)- Guarantees Freedom of Speech & Expression.

CONTENTIONS FROM BOTH THE SIDES 

  • PETITIONER:
  • The attorney contended that there was insufficient supporting evidence and documentation in the high court judges’ comments and observations. Furthermore, the judges prevented the election commission from attempting to defend itself. The election commission’s reputation has suffered as a result of these remarks, which have received extensive media attention. The lawyer went on to argue that the judicial process is limited in its scope when it comes to matters pertaining to elections. He maintained that following rules and conventions is the responsibility of the State.
  • Furthermore, it was argued that even a research methodology would demonstrate that elections had no appreciable impact on the nation’s increase in COVID cases. The lawyer asserted that the electoral commission had issued rules that had to be followed during elections and had placed restrictions on the length of election campaigns. The election commission was disproportionately biased as a result of the Madras High Court’s oral remarks and empirical evidence.
  • Because embellishing the proceedings could undermine public trust in the system, the media must take great care to ensure that they are accurately reported. Regulations and decrees must therefore be drafted to specify how the court’s prosecutions are to be reported.
  • RESPONDENT:
  • The legal representative contesting the submissions contended that the Electoral Commission possesses a broad array of authorities throughout a state election period. These authorities include the capacity to substitute or revoke the appointment of district magistrates, law enforcement officers, the general manager of police, and even to mobilize paramilitary groups. The electoral commission was also in charge of implementing safety precautions and the COVID-19 communication protocol during elections.

RATIONALE OF THE CASE

The EC was upset with the High Court’s oral observations made during the hearing and the fact that it neglected to discuss the merits of its miscellaneous application before that court. The EC had requested in its miscellaneous application:

  1. Media coverage that omitted the judges’ oral remarks in favor of only what was included in the court file before the Madras High Court; and 
  2. A directive that, regarding the complaint submitted in Kolkata, no coercive action be taken against the EC officials.

It was stated right away that the second prayer mentioned above was completely misguided. The person who was wronged had recourse to remedies under the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure if a FIR had been filed in Kolkata. There were legal remedies available, such as quashing under Section 482 of the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure. If the EC chose a poorly thought-out course of action that the High Court could not have possibly entertained, it could not have had a grievance.

The primary focus of the Issue was the initial request made by the European Commission, which aimed to limit the media’s ability to cover court cases. Its application was predicated on the idea that information should only be disclosed that which was included in the official court record. The open court system and the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression are two fundamental principles protected by the Constitution, and these were targeted by the EC’s prayer.

DEFECTS OF LAW

In the Indian legal system, courts had to stay open in both the literal and figurative sense, unless there were extraordinary circumstances, like child sexual abuse cases or matrimonial cases where people’s privacy had to be protected. Our legal system is based on the idea of open access to courts, which guarantees that information about court proceedings is accessible to the general public. The public has a right to know what occurs during court proceedings. The public can observe the judicial process and test legal arguments through the exchange of ideas and arguments in an open court, which is essential to upholding accountability and transparency.

Establishing trust in the operation of democratic institutions also requires public scrutiny. The court is more disciplined when the public is present, and public hearings are essential to maintaining the court’s own discipline. Public scrutiny increases trust in the system, and criticism can serve as a check on a judge’s behavior. The public can learn a great deal about the legislative and executive branches’ operations from court cases, and open courts also have educational value. The Indian legal system does, however, have some exceptions. For example, there are situations in which it is necessary to protect a person’s privacy.

Establishing trust in the operation of democratic institutions also requires public scrutiny. The court is more disciplined when the public is present, and public hearings are essential to maintaining the court’s discipline. Public scrutiny increases trust in the system, and criticism can serve as a check on a judge’s behavior. The public can learn a great deal about the legislative and executive branches’ operations from court cases, and open courts also have educational value. The Indian legal system does, however, have some exceptions. For example, there are situations in which it is necessary to protect a person’s privacy.

INFERENCE FROM THE CASE

In this case, the European Commission wrote to the Supreme Court to seek redress against the alleged verbal comments made by the Madras High Court, another constitutional body.

There is no proof that the EC received any of the reliefs it requested from the Supreme Court. The media will be able to cover legal proceedings thanks to this decision. A secure democracy must include media coverage of legal proceedings. It seems that the court disregarded its arguments in favor of protecting the democratic fabric of the country rather than the standing of any specific constitutional authority. When determining cases of libel or other torts, any principles found in the constitution—especially those that constitute the fundamental framework of the Indian constitution—must be taken into consideration.

The SC further stated that the issue of their removal is irrelevant because these oral statements are not part of the official record of the proceedings. It is a tired cliché to say that a court’s true position is shown in its rulings and orders rather than in the statements it makes orally during the trial. It is evident from this that the Madras High Court is making an effort to reconcile the demands of the two constitutional authorities.

CONCLUSION

A general public court ensures that justices adhere to the law, as the Supreme Court’s rulings sagely observed. The highest court ruled that press coverage of court proceedings falls under the category of press freedom and is therefore protected by the fundamental right to free speech and expression. The election commission has traditionally handled these duties, and this should continue.

AUTHOR 

SAKET SRIVASTAVA

UNIVERSITY OF ALLAHABAD