The Chief Election Commissioner of India Vs. M.R Vijayabhaskar & Ors.

Case Number: Civil Appeal Nos.1767 of 2021 arising out of S.L.P. (C) No. 6731 of 2021

Judges Name: Hon’ble Judges Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud J, M R Shah J

Order dated: 06.05.2021

“Freedom of Speech and Expression includes reporting Judicial Proceedings.”

Facts of the case:

  • The Hon’ble High Court of Madras entertained a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution to ensure that COVID-related protocols are followed in the polling booths at the 135- Karur Legislative Assembly Constituency in Tamil Nadu. The Respondent sent a representation to the Election Commission to take adequate steps and precautions to secure the health and safety of officers in the counting booth. Thereafter the respondent filed a writ petition before the Hon’ble High Court of Madras to seek directions that significant steps are taken and arrangements are made following covid-19 protocols on 02.05.2019 also to ensure fair counting of votes at the 135-Karur Legislative Assembly Constituency. 
  • During the hearings, the Division Bench is alleged to have made certain remarks, attributing responsibility to the Election Commission for the surge in the number of cases of COVID-19, due to their failure to implement appropriate COVID-19 safety measures and protocol during the elections. Though the remarks made orally and was not recorded in the order of the High Court but the remarks were reported in print, electronic and tele media. 
  • The Election Commission also filed a miscellaneous application seeking for a relief to pass an order of interim direction directing that only what forms part of the record in the proceedings W.P. No. 10441/2021 is to be reported by the press and electronic media. The Hon’ble Court disposed of the petition, in view of the measures taken by the EC for observance of COVID-19 protocols at the time of the counting of votes on 2 May 2021, particularly in the 135- Karur Constituency. 
  • Aggrieved by the order of Hon’ble High Court of Madras, the Election Commission filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. 

Supreme Court held:

  • The Supreme Court observed that oral remarks made during any judicial proceedings are never recorded as part of the order or judgement. The Court held that the remarks of the High court of Madras were harsh. It further held that Language, both on the Bench and in judgments, must comport with judicial propriety. Language is an important instrument of a judicial process which is sensitive to constitutional values. Judicial language is a window to a conscience sensitive to constitutional ethos. Bereft of its understated balance, language risks losing its symbolism as a protector of human dignity.
  • The Supreme Court refused to grant the prayer of the Election Commission to restrict the media from reporting any oral remarks made by the judges as it strikes the fundamental principles guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. 
  • The Supreme Court held that the concept of an open court requires that information relating to a court proceeding must be available in the public domain. Citizens have a right to know about what transpires in the course of judicial proceedings. The Court further referred Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and held that freedom of speech and expression extends to reporting the proceedings of judicial institutions as well. 
  • In view of the above, the Hon’ble Supreme Court disposed of the appeal. 

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