The Delhi High Court on Thursday refused to issue any directions on two PILs that sought lifting of the ban on the December 16, 2012 Delhi gangrape documentary, saying that it could affect the trial as judges are “not from outer space”.
Admitting that judges, too, were “subconsciously influenced” by the media, the bench of justices Badar Durrez Ahmed and Sanjeev Sachdeva said, “Judges are also people. We are not from outer space.” The bench added that “in our opinion”, the documentary “should not be screened” till the Supreme Court gives a final verdict in the case.
The comments were made after the lawyers for the petitioners argued that the documentary would not affect the ongoing appeal proceedings in the Supreme Court.
“We find that media trials tend to influence the minds of judges. You can’t hide your head like an ostrich in the sand and say it doesn’t happen. There is an impact on sentencing,” said the bench. The court said that it had “no prima facie objection” to the documentary, but suggested that the screening should “wait till the Supreme Court decides” the case.
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The documentary, which contains interviews of the victim’s family, convict Mukesh and the defence lawyers, was screened by the BBC internationally last week. The government had banned the airing of the documentary in India after orders issued by a trial court on March 4.
The two PILs requesting that the ban be lifted were scheduled to be heard by the bench of the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court on Wednesday, but could not be taken up as the bench did not assemble. The petitioners then approached the second most senior bench, which agreed to hear the case on Thursday. During the hearing, however, the bench refused to issue any interim orders to allow the screening of the documentary, and adjourned the case for hearing before the court of the Chief Justice next Wednesday.
The court also noted that films and visual media had a “powerful emotional impact” which could potentially interfere with the trial of the accused in the case. Observing that the documentary contained remarks made by one of the convicts, the court commented that screening the documentary “has the tendency of interfering with justice”.
“It may make his (Mukesh’s) case, it may ruin his case and that of his co-accused,” commented the court.
The bench also made serious remarks against the media after it was pointed out that the details of the documentary had already been aired on TV news channels and newspapers had given extensive coverage to the remarks made in the documentary.
“There used to be a time when the media exercised self censorship rule on sub judice matters. That has now been thrown to the wind,” said the bench.
Meanwhile, Central government counsel Monika Arora argued that the government had banned the documentary on the orders of a metropolitan magistrate, under the Cable TV rules, as it “denigrates the rape victim and women in general”.
Two PILs by law student Vibhor Anand and law students Arun Menon and Kritika Padode have been filed before the High Court challenging the ban on grounds that it violated fundamental right of speech and expression.